Windows and doors are an essential part of the historic and architectural character of any building and I find them interesting because they represent the transition between the public and the private world. In ancient Rome the holes in the sides of the buildings were appropriately called ‘wind eyes’.
While we wander through Greek islands as temporary guests we are only generally allowed to see the exterior of buildings and the doors and windows of the houses offer a tantalising voyeuristic vision of a private life beyond that we can only guess at or imagine.
My favourite doors are in the Cyclades where, next to the white that we all associate with the islands, the prevailing colour is blue and this colour combination has become a trademark of the islands.
It turns out that this isn’t just because it is a favourite of the people who live there or that the local hardware store simply overstocked and sold it off cheap in a clearance sale, the widespread use emanates from an ancient belief that the sky-blue shade of turquoise has the power to keep evil away. It is believed that the radiation of the colour composes a sort of invisible shield, which prevents the approach of bad spirits.
Blue is used everywhere in the Cyclades, church cupolas, windows, doors, walls, staircases and fences which provide blue ‘belts’ around buildings, which supposedly provide protection against evil. Turquoise stones on jewellery, belts and weapons are put there to safeguard people, animals and even plants. Blue ‘eyes’ and blue stones mounted on gold and silver are presented to babies and small children as a talisman for protection and in the Greek Boy Scouts all the boys where a sky-blue scarf around their necks for this very same reason.
These days I suppose people just use ‘Dulux’, or whatever the equivalent is in Greece, but in the past the blue paint that the painters used was the product of powdered turquoise stone or a mixture of copper from Cyprus and sand and the most expensive paint was made with the plant ‘Indian cyanus’.
Architectural parts of public buildings, such as the Parthenon in Athens, as well as villas in Pompeii and Rome, were painted in turquoise. For two thousand years, the finest turquoise has been mined in what used to be called Persia and even today this region has remained the most important source of turquoise, for it is here that fine material is most consistently recovered. Turquoise mined in Persia used to arrive in Europe by way of the trade route through Turkey and the word turquoise is a French word that means ‘stone of Turkey’.
In the Cyclades the combination of blue and white is also a matter of law. Since 1974, by a decree passed by the ruling military government of the time (the Generals), houses have had to be painted white, it is said as a patriotic gesture to represent the colours of the Greek flag. Recently a big debate has been re-opened between the Ministry of Culture and other authorities about allowing the use of alternative colours but as yet the law remains in place although some island authorities have begun to sometimes permit light ochre, pink, and some other pastel colours.
The custom of painting doors blue extends way beyond Greece and is common across the entire world. Even today in provinces of Spain buildings are decorated with blue bands and designs, houses in Egypt, in the Arab villages of Israel, and entire villages in Morocco, have blue walls. The same turquoise colour decorates the houses of Mexican Indians and the Amish in Pennsylvania in the United States always paint their doors blue because, just as in Greece, many folk magic traditions and customs maintain that a witch cannot cross a blue threshold and according to such belief, a blue door is an effective barrier against evil, much like laying a broom across the thresh hold, putting salt on the windowsills or a hanging a horseshoe above the door.
Considering how important blue doors are I had a look at the official LEGO website looking for blue doors, but I was disappointed to discover that they apparently have never made blue classic doors. According to an enthusiast’s site however they did make the 1x3x4 medium (1970s) doors and door frames in blue but (can you believe this?) they were never sold with the same door and door frame colours in the same set. Astounding!