Gubbio is fully medieval, exclusively medieval. Very little has been taken away or renovated for it was built at a prosperous time of fortune and wealth. The houses flanking Gubbio’s winding medieval alleyways are solid and often magnificent, suiting the inhabitants’ needs right to the present time. Many of the Gubbio palazzi date to the 14th and 15th centuries and were the dwellings of wealthy merchants.
Most of Gubbio’s medieval homes have a second higher, narrower door facing the street and close to the wider main entrance, both doors generally crowned with Gothic pointed arches.
Termed “porta della morte” (“death door”, Doors for the Dead), the narrow door was probably for security and defense rather than for use at a time of death.
The wider main door opened most probably into wine cellars, stalls, areas where pig butchering was done or storage spaces. Behind the so called “Doors for the Dead,” i.e., that adjacent narrower door above street level, high narrow steps led up to the living area, la zona casa. Access to those steps was from a door opening from the cellar area, bolted at night – as was the main wider door of the cellar area on street level; thus, each Gubbio medieval home became a mini-fortress.
What about the link of such medieval doors to the dead? Certainly, the narrow door was not specifically built for the carrying out of a body at the time of death yet as a medieval historian friend from Gubbio explained to me, after a death in the house, the body was probably wrapped in a shroud and carried down the narrow steps to that narrow door higher than street level, opened for easily depositing the shrouded corpse into the waiting funeral cart below.
As you walk through Gubbio today – or any medieval Umbrian town – keep your eyes open for la porta della morte. In many cases, that higher narrow door has become a window:
…even a shop window:
At times, the medieval porta della morte is walled up:
But not always: sometimes, it remains a door…
…no longer an entryway to block up for defense, but simply a bellissimo highlight of the medieval architecture of Gubbio.
And for the beloved Corsa dei Ceri festival on May 15th, colorful banners are draped from many a window, hanging over those “death doors,” some still doorways, others walled in…
Read here about la Corsa dei Ceri
Read more here about the glorious Corsa dei Ceri
Read here about Gubbio’s Palazzo dei Consoli
Read about Gubbio’s pre-Roman archeological treasures