Portals of Malta

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.

Many ancient cities were protected by fortifications which had restricted gates through which all trade had to pass. Pictured here is a section of stone wall surrounding the historic city of Valletta, Malta. Photo: Henry Lewis

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.

Ancient ‘worked’ stones from a Neolithic site on the main island of Malta. Photo: Henry Lewis

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.

The passage of time has clearly marked the entrance to this house in the city of Valletta, the capital of Malta. Photo: Henry Lewis

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.

The entire city of Valletta is a protected UNESCO site due to the many layers of history left behind by successive civilizations that have occupied this strategic island nation. Photo: Henry Lewis

Beyond every archway in Valletta, there are more fascinating architectural details to discover. Photo: Henry Lewis

Interior of the Grandmaster’s Palace, Valletta. Photo: Henry Lewis

Entrance to the Inquisitor’s Palace in Birgu, another ancient town just across the harbor from Valletta. This was a place of torture during the more than 200-year history of the Maltese Inquisition from 1574 to 1798. It had a very disconcerting vibe to say the least. Photo: Henry Lewis


Ornate archway that serves as the main entrance to the Grandmaster’s Palace (not a tourist entrance) in the center of Valletta. Photo: Henry Lewis


Amazing portal to the National Library’s main reading room, Valletta. Photo: Henry Lewis

A Gothic entryway in Valletta, made even more interesting by evening’s light. Photo: Henry Lewis

A church doorway in Valletta with a saintly welcome. Photo: Henry Lewis


A less than saintly welcome through the door of this very interesting-looking Valletta bar. Photo: Henry Lewis

I appreciate the way this wine bar and art gallery combined well-crafted art with Birgu’s ancient architecture. Photo: Henry Lewis

Entrance to the same restaurant/bar above located in Birgu, Malta. Photo: Henry Lewis

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.




Categories: Culture, TravelTags: , , , , ,


  1. Great photos and an excellent theme of portals. Thanks, Henry. -Rebecca

    Liked by 3 people

  2. My family is from nearby Sicily, so this great post has special meaning for me. Thanks!

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Love the photos of Malta. What a new perspective – for me, anyway – of portals or doorways! I will be more “aware of the magic that may lie just on the other side of the many portals we pass through on a daily basis.” Thinking about it, we do enter a different world whenever we cross the threshold of a friend’s house or a place of business.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hi Rosaliene,

      I think there can be a burst of freedom felt after walking through a doorway. Imagine the relief we feel upon leaving the dentist office, a hospital etc. I think I still harbor that feeling of freedom that I knew lay just on the other side of the door to the house where I grew up as a child. Crossing that threshold and leaving parental discipline behind was a real high as a child. Thanks for your comments!

      Liked by 1 person


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  5. Aren’t doorways wonderful? They are so functional and symbolic. Last Oct we walked through some impressive ones in Peru made by the Inca. It feels good to use them. https://ourviewfromiowa.files.wordpress.com/2018/11/181018-peru153a.jpg

    Liked by 2 people

  6. As always, a very interesting and informative article. The portal to torture is more than disconcerting, as people are still tortured today. It seems we have come nowhere as a whole, even though parts of society have succeeded through a portal of “civilization”.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Wonderful meditation on our human fascination with doors and portals as metaphor. History, adventure, personal inquiry. You brought it all together in Malta.

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  8. Delightful post, Henry. I have a fascination with doors — love those Instagram accounts of doors from around the world, and have in mind an art project where I fill a gallery with doors I’ve painted and people can walk through them, etc. At the end of last year I got a door from the Habitat for Humanity thrift store and turned it into an abstract geometric painting for a local coffee shop. All because of a fascination with doors that your post helps to illuminate! Thanks!

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  9. Great shots. Perfect introduction!

    Liked by 2 people

  10. Those worked stones… Wow!!!! Amazing.

    Liked by 2 people

  11. I wonder if my next trip should be in Malta… your pictures make me dream!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I highly recommend it. Malta is a treasure trove of architecture–literally spanning thousands of years–and it’s all contained within a very small area. Thanks for the ‘follow’ and I look forward to reading your blog and discovering your new creations!


  12. I will never overlook a doorway again. I’m not an artsy person but history intrigues me. It is nice to stop and appreciate the unobvious sometimes. Thanks

    Liked by 1 person

  13. This is an attractive assortment of doorways and an interesting essay Henry. And obviously, Malta’s deep well of history made it the perfect setting. It’s interesting in human history how our minds can take just about any functional construct and assign deep meaning and symbolism. Windows are another good example. I enjoy posts like this because as a traveler, they make me much more attentive to my surroundings. Well done. ~James

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi James,

      Thanks for stopping by! You guys are sharing wonderful stories over at Gallivance!

      Yes, Malta is definitely the sort of place that gives my mind flights of fancy. I feel very personally connected to places with so many layers of history, and of course exploring the events that formed those layers is an epic adventure.


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