The earliest records are those represented in the paintings of the Egyptian tombs, in which they are shown as single or double doors, each in a single piece of wood. In Egypt, where the climate is intensely dry, there would be no fear of their warping, but in other countries it would be necessary to frame them, which according to Vitruvius (iv. 6.) was done with stiles (sea/si) and rails (see: Frame and panel): the spaces enclosed being filled with panels (tympana) let into grooves made in the stiles and rails. The stiles were the vertical boards, one of which, tenoned or hinged, is known as the hanging stile, the other as the middle or meeting stile. The horizontal cross pieces are the top rail, bottom rail, and middle or intermediate rails. The most ancient doors were in timber, those made for King Solomon's temple being in olive wood (I Kings vi. 31-35), which were carved and overlaid with gold. The doors dwelt upon in Homer would appear to have been cased in silver or brass. Besides Olive wood, elm, cedar, oak and cypress were used. A 5,000-year-old door has been found by archaeologists in Switzerland.
All ancient doors were hung by pivots at the top and bottom of the hanging stile which worked in sockets in the lintel and sill, the latter being always in some hard stone such as basalt or granite. Those found at Nippur by Dr. Hilprecht, dating from 2000 B.C. were in dolerite. The tenons of the gates at Balawat were sheathed with bronze (now in the British Museum). These doors or gates were hung in two leaves, each about 8 ft 4 in (2.54 m) wide and 27 ft (8.2 m). high; they were encased with bronze bands or strips, 10 in. high, covered with repouss decoration of figures, etc. The wood doors would seem to have been about 3 in. thick, but the hanging stile was over 14 inches (360 mm) diameter. Other sheathings of various sizes in bronze have been found, which proves this to have been the universal method adopted to protect the wood pivots. In the Hauran in Syria, where timber is scarce the doors were made in stone, and one measuring 5 ft 4 in (1.63 m) by 2 ft 7 in (0.79 m) is in the British Museum; the band on the meeting stile shows that it was one of the leaves of a double door. At Kuffeir near Bostra in Syria, Burckhardt found stone doors, 9 to 10 ft (3.0 m). high, being the entrance doors of the town. In Etruria many stone doors are referred to by Dennis.
The ancient Greek and Roman doors were either single doors, double doors, sliding doors or folding doors, in the last case the leaves were hinged and folded back. In Eumachia, is a painting of a door with three leaves. In the tomb of Theron at Agrigentum there is a single four-panel door carved in stone. In the Blundell collection is a bas-relief of a temple with double doors, each leaf with five panels. Among existing examples, the bronze doors in the church of SS. Cosmas and Damiano, in Rome, are important examples of Roman metal work of the best period; they are in two leaves, each with two panels, and are framed in bronze. Those of the Pantheon are similar in design, with narrow horizontal panels in addition, at the top, bottom and middle. Two other bronze doors of the Roman period are in the Lateran Basilica.
The Greek scholar Heron of Alexandria created the earliest known automatic door in the 1st century CE during the era of Roman Egypt. The first foot-sensor-activated automatic door was made in China during the reign of Emperor Yang of Sui (r. 604–618), who had one installed for his royal library. The first automatic gate operators were later created in 1206 by the Arabic inventor, Al-Jazari.
Copper and its alloys were integral in medieval architecture. The doors of the church of the Nativity at Bethlehem (6th century) are covered with plates of bronze, cut out in patterns. Those of Hagia Sophia at Constantinople, of the 8th and 9th century, are wrought in bronze, and the west doors of the cathedral of Aix-la-Chapelle (9th century), of similar manufacture, were probably brought from Constantinople, as also some of those in St. Marks, Venice. The bronze doors on the Aachen Cathedral in Germany date back to about 800 A.D. Bronze baptistery doors at the Cathedral of Florence were completed in 1423 A.D. by Ghiberti. (For more information, see: Copper in architecture).
Of the 11th and 12th centuries there are numerous examples of bronze doors, the earliest being one at Hildesheim, Germany (1015). The Hildesheim design affected the concept of Gniezno door in Poland. Of others in South Italy and Sicily, the following are the finest: in Sant Andrea, Amalfi (1060); Salerno (1099); Canosa (1111); Troia, two doors (1119 and 1124); Ravello (1179), by Barisano of Trani, who also made doors for Trani cathedral; and in Monreale and Pisa cathedrals, by Bonano of Pisa. In all these cases the hanging stile had pivots at the top and bottom. The exact period when the hinge was substituted is not quite known, but the change apparently brought about another method of strengthening and decorating doors, viz, with wrought-iron bands of infinite varieties of design. As a rule three bands from which the ornamental work springs constitute the hinges, which have rings outside the hanging stiles fitting on to vertical tenons run into the masonry or wooden frame. There is an early example of the 12th century in Lincoln; in France the metal work of the doors of Notre Dame at Paris is perhaps the most beautiful in execution, but examples are endless throughout France and England.
Returning to Italy, the most celebrated doors are those of the Battistero di San Giovanni (Florence), which together with the door frames are all in bronze, the borders of the latter being perhaps the most remarkable: the modeling of the figures, birds and foliage of the south doorway, by Andrea Pisano (1330), and of the east doorway by Ghiberti (1425–1452), are of great beauty; in the north door (1402–1424) Ghiberti adopted the same scheme of design for the paneling and figure subjects in them as Andrea Pisano, but in the east door the rectangular panels are all filled, with bas-reliefs, in which Scripture subjects are illustrated with innumerable figures, these being probably the gates of Paradise of which Michelangelo speaks.
The doors of the mosques in Cairo were of two kinds; those which, externally, were cased with sheets of bronze or iron, cut out in decorative patterns, and incised or inlaid, with bosses in relief; and those in wood, which were framed with interlaced designs of the square and diamond, this latter description of work being Coptic in its origin. The doors of the palace at Palermo, which were made by Saracenic workmen for the Normans, are fine examples and in good preservation. A somewhat similar decorative class of door to these latter is found in Verona, where the edges of the stiles and rails are beveled and notched.
In the Renaissance period the Italian doors are quite simple, their architects trusting more to the doorways for effect; but in France and Germany the contrary is the case, the doors being elaborately carved, especially in the Louis XIV and Louis XV periods, and sometimes with architectural features such as columns and entablatures with pediment and niches, the doorway being in plain masonry. While in Italy the tendency was to give scale by increasing the number of panels, in France the contrary seems to have been the rule; and one of the great doors at Fontainebleau, which is in two leaves, is entirely carried out as if consisting of one great panel only.
The earliest Renaissance doors in France are those of the cathedral of St. Sauveur at Aix (1503). In the lower panels there are figures 3 ft (0.91 m). high in Gothic niches, and in the upper panels a double range of niches with figures about 2 ft (0.61 m). high with canopies over them, all carved in cedar. The south door of Beauvais Cathedral is in some respects the finest in France; the upper panels are carved in high relief with figure subjects and canopies over them. The doors of the church at Gisors (1575) are carved with figures in niches subdivided by classic pilasters superimposed. In St. Maclou at Rouen are three magnificently carved doors; those by Jean Goujon have figures in niches on each side, and others in a group of great beauty in the center. The other doors, probably about forty to fifty years later, are enriched with bas-reliefs, landscapes, figures and elaborate interlaced borders.
When it comes to the world's largest door, there is not just one, in fact there are four and they all belong to NASA's Vehicle Assembly Building at the Kennedy Space Center. The Vehicle Assembly Building was originally built to assembly of Apollo and Saturn vehicles and is now used to support Space Shuttle operations. Each of the four doors are 139 meters or 456 feet high, in comparison the Statue of Liberty is only 93 meters or 305 feet high.
The oldest door in England can be found in Westminster Abbey and dates from 1050. In England in the 17th century the door panels were raised with bolection or projecting moldings, sometimes richly carved, round them; in the 18th century the moldings worked on the stiles and rails were carved with the egg and tongue ornament.
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