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Italian Door Knockers: A Photo Tour of Bologna’s Exquisite Entrances

Normally I look at the big picture when it comes to door anatomy: the door frame, the transom, as well as the broader facade that the door anchors. In Italy though, it’s all about the details. Italy’s doors are elegant, but what really sets them apart and makes each one unique are those Italian door knockers.

I got up close and personal with the beautiful door knockers of Bologna on a recent workcation in Emilia-Romagna. As I strolled through the grand shaded porticos of the city, I couldn’t help but zero in on the ornate embellishments of Bologna’s exquisite entryways.

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Bologna Door Knocker Gallery

Let’s take a tour of Bologna’s best door knockers through this photo collection from my travels.

Italian Knockers with a Lion Motif

Lions were the most common theme that I found among Italy’s door knockers. This is really no surprise given how lions symbolize strength and power. What better animal to guard an Italian entryway?

Golden Italian door knocker featuring a lion biting the ring and a floral strike plate
Lion door knocker set in a raised wooden circle in a door panel
Italian door knocker featuring an angry lion biting a twisted ring
Dusty bronze door knocker in Bologna featuring a lion biting the ring
Lion door knocker on a gouged wooden door in Bologna
Door knocker featuring a lion biting a ring. The strike plate has a floral motif.
Dusty lion Italian door knocker
Golden lion door knocker on an orange-brown slab in Bologna Italy.
Lion door knocker with thick eyebrows. The lion is biting the ring.

Get a lion knocker for your own door.

Scary Italian Door Knockers

Many door knockers in Bologna featured hideous or menacing creatures like ghouls, devils, and serpents. Perhaps the people who lived behind these doors were trying to scare away some evil spirits?

Menacing creature with a mustache biting a ring to form a door knocker in Bologna.
Ghoulish creature with elongated ears biting a ring featuring the figure of a woman
Intricate door knocker featuring a menacing creature, two angels, and a screaming face in Bologna Italy.
Intricate door knocker. The knocker features a creature that resembles both a lion and a man with sharp teeth. There is a devil with horns and a horned goat emerging from the metal ring.
Ornate door knocker featuring a menacing creature and cherubs in Bologna
Door knocker featuring a snake biting a naked woman in Bologna Italy

Buy a scary knocker for your own door.

Elegant Italian Door Knockers

Some of the knockers in Bologna are free from beings; either human or other-worldly. I loved the many ornately decorated ring knockers that I found on my trip to Italy.

Instead of round strikers, some of the knockers were shaped like lyres which added an elegant touch.

Pair of door knockers that look like wreaths decorated with a bow in Bologna.
Ornate ring Italian door knocker in Bologna
Lyre shaped door knocker featuring a twisted rope motif in Bologna, Italy
Ornate door knocker and keyhole in Bologna
Heart-shaped door knocker in Bologna, Italy
Heavy lyre shaped door knocker resting on a decorative diamond shaped strike plate in Bologna, Italy.

Mythical Italian Door Knockers

Some of the door knockers that I spotted in Bologna had a mythical theme. Who doesn’t love unicorns and mermaids?

Italian door knocker featuring a unicorn. The decorated ring leans against a strike plate shaped like a flower.
Lyre shaped door knocker featuring fish, two mermaids, and an angel in Bologna Italy.

Get your own mermaid door knocker.

Hand of Fatima Knockers

I learned from Images of Venice that door knockers in the shape of a hand are meant to protect the house and the people who live there from evil. I spotted just one such “Hand of Fatima” in Bologna.

Door knocker shaped like a hand in Bologna

Bologna’s Door Decor

While the Italian door knockers in Bologna were the star of the show, I couldn’t help but notice the other bits of door decor popping up all around the city including cool door handles, escutcheons, and straight up decorations. Let’s take a look at some of the best examples that I found on my trip.

Door Decorations

I spotted a pair of sculptures adorning a door in Bologna. They didn’t really seem to be knockers or door knobs, just a bit of door decor. Doing a little research, I think this figure is Hercules leaning on a large club and wearing the pelt of the Nemean Lion to protect him from attacks. Both the club and the lion’s pelt were spoils from the Labours of Hercules. On the left, he is young, on the right he is old.

Young Hercules and the Nemean Lion door decoration in Bologna
Old Hercules wearing the skin of the Nemean lion represented as a door decoration.

Door Handles

The door handles in Bologna ranged from whimsical mermaids to sturdy metal rods with Art Deco and Art Nouveau flourishes.

There were also plenty of fish door handles. Could they be harbingers of good luck?

Mermaid door handle in Bologna Italy
Fish door handle with a curly tail in Bologna Italy
Art Deco door handle in Bologna
Fish-shaped door handle in Bologna Italy.

My absolute favorite door handle in Bologna had to be this ornate gem. When viewed straight on, it looks like a mix of twists and bows. However, if you look at this Italian door handle from below, it reveals a face that seems to be screaming in pain. So wild…

Intricate door handle comprised of two serpents viewed head on.
Face that appears to be screaming in agony. Part of a door handle viewed from below in Bologna, Italy.

Bologna Keyholes

Bologna’s keyholes represented some of the best escutcheons I’ve seen on my travels. As a reminder, escutcheons are decorative plates surrounding a door’s lockset, handle, or door knob.

Most of the ornate keyholes in Bologna featured bearded faces that appeared to be screaming (either alone or in pairs). I did also spy a lovely keyhole decorated with a clamshell.

Pair of keyholes that resemble open-mouthed bearded men in Bologna Italy.
Keyhole resembling a shouting bearded man in Bologna Italy
Pair of grotesque keyholes in Bologna, Italy
Keyhole decorated with a clamshell motif.

What is the history of door knockers?

Now that we’ve explored some beautiful pictures of door knockers and other elements of a door’s anatomy in Bologna, let’s explore the history of door knockers as an architectural and decorative element.

Ancient Origins: Door knockers have a long history and are believed to date back to Ancient Greece. According to Willow & Stone, slaves were sometimes attached to a ring at the door and were expected to open the door to guests.

Medieval Symbolism: According to Brass Bee, Europe saw a rise in the preference for strong, menacing figures on their door knockers with an eye toward warding off evil spirits to protect the home.

Renaissance Transformation: Paul’s Bologna blog suggests that during the Renaissance, artisans saw doors as another medium to express their creativity and knockers became even more elaborate and decorative.

Modern Knockers: With the invention of the doorbell, door knockers are now primarily decorative. Bologna’s door knockers whether original or reproduced lend a cultural artistry to the city without a doubt. Stroll through the city’s porticoes and see for yourself.

What do Italian door knockers symbolize?

Let’s not underestimate the symbolic value of Italian door knockers. I’ve discussed some of this in the gallery above, but let me summarize the symbolism embodied in Bologna’s door knockers here.

Protection: In Italy, especially during medieval times, fierce figures like lions or mythical beasts were used to ward off evil spirits and protect the inhabitants.

Status: More elaborate and decorative knockers made from expensive materials like bronze or iron demonstrated the homeowner’s wealth and social standing.

Hospitality or Luck: A door knocker could welcome visitors or bode good luck.

Religion, Myths, and Legends: Christian symbols of heaven or hell are represented in some of the more ornate Italian door knockers. In addition, mythical figures like Hercules also feature prominently in Bologna’s door decor. Who knew that doors could tell such epic stories?

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I hope you’ve enjoyed this photo gallery and travel essay featuring the door knockers of Bologna. To get your daily door photography fix, follow me on Instagram.

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