Doorways are portals to other worlds, both real and imagined. J. R. R. Tolkien–speaking through one of his most enduring characters, Bilbo Baggins–summed up the sense of mystery and adventure that lies just on the other side of such an opening.
It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to–
Bilbo Baggins in Lord of the Rings
The idea that portals are gateways to other worlds filled with exotic new adventures was reinforced in popular fiction, TV programs and movies during my childhood. In the 1960s, I was enthralled by The Time Tunnel, a TV show with a thin plot that was propelled by the time traveling adventures of its two main characters. They would walk into a swirling black and white tunnel–think cheesy special effects!–which was a portal to other worlds. This was also a popular theme in other TV shows of the time such as The Twilight Zone. And I was glued to the TV when these shows aired.
The doorway effect
Those of us who are fortunate enough to live in a house or apartment made up of more than one room have probably experienced the phenomenon of walking through a doorway into another room and simultaneously forgetting the reason we walked into that room. We may experience a change in temperament or thought processing simply by walking through a portal.
According to scientific research, walking through a doorway triggers our brains to be ready to learn something new, and therefore, takes us away from the thoughts that occupied our minds just seconds before. That powerful response can be either stimulating or annoying depending on the circumstances, but I prefer to focus on the possibilities such journeys offer rather than the limitations.
Passing through a portal can be the key to the process of rejuvenation, a way to unplug from the disturbing or mundane events we become bogged down in at home or work. Whether for exercise or to relieve depression, when I need a break, I remove myself from the situation at hand, walk outside, breath some fresh air (hopefully) and let my sense of curiosity about the world take control. This is where the adventure begins.
Portals as architectural features
Ancient civilizations developed building techniques that allowed for the creative use of stone and other materials in fashioning impressive entrances to temples and other important structures. Egyptian sites such as the temple of Karnak in ancient Thebes (today’s Luxor) illustrate the importance architects and builders of that time placed on the location and design of portals.
The ancient cultures that thrived in the area of present day Pakistan and India continued developing these techniques which were further refined and took form in the beautiful symmetry of Greek and Roman arches. Unfortunately, current architectural fads don’t always take doorways seriously which seems to lessen the effects of passing through, except for the inevitable revolving door conundrum.
While I’m someone who clearly lives in the present, my love of history and art also feeds my interest in architecture. During the years I lived in the Middle East–when the entirety of the ancient world seemed to be readily accessible–my favorite destinations were those steeped in history. I would search the UNESCO website for a likely candidate for my next adventure, all the while keeping an eye on my travel budget and time restraints due to work.
Portals of Malta
During those years, one of my favorite destinations was the island nation of Malta, situated in the Mediterranean Sea only 90 miles south of Sicily. This group of rocks rising out of the sea has been witness to human exploits since long before the Greek writer, Homer, sent Ulysses off on his Odyssey. Every street in the capital, Valletta, exposes layers of history that tell stories of conquest and defeat as a variety of cultures inhabited the islands over many millennia.
From the heavy stone portals of the islands’ early Neolithic peoples through to the Baroque influences begun in the late 16th century, this tiny country offers a fascinating mix of architectural and cultural history. The ancient stones and beautiful archways have intriguing stories to tell if a traveler takes the time to listen. It’s only a matter of passing through with a mind that’s open to new adventures.
So be aware of the magic that may lie just on the other side of the many portals we pass through on a daily basis.