Elsewhere · History · Travel

Knocking on Doors

In our travels the one souvenir I look for is a door knocker, not any old knocker but one in the shape of a hand. The hand is thought to be a representation of the Hamsa, a symbol of God’s hand in the earth. For Muslims, Hamsa is the hand of Fatima and for Jews it is the hand of Miriam who is the Prophet Moses’ sister.

They are found throughout the Mediterranean  region from the South of France to North Africa. What attracts me to them is their variety. Some are very simple and others are quite bold and robust in their design and casting.

A couple were just bought from a stall in a market or a shop but others were a bit more complicated and have a story of how it was purchased or where it was found. The knockers have come from Bizerte, Marrakech, Istanbul, Damascus and Sousse.

In Marrakech, I found the knocker in a shop in the medina. I usually don’t enjoy the bargaining that is expected but in this case I was in the mood. I liked the knocker, it was heavy and cast in a pot metal, not a common material, and it had a casting flaw. The negotiations took about 40 minutes of back and forth on price before I was able to leave the shop.

In Damascus, someone stepped in to negotiate because while I was happy with the price, they thought it was too much. And in Bizerte in northern Tunisia we were walking through a yard of used building materials. I asked someone about door knockers and they ran off and got someone else who came out from behind a stack of lumber and after numerous hand gestures had us follow him deeper into the yard.

He pulled out a big wooden door with a big heavy knocker and when I said yes he took out a hatchet and proceeded to cut it out of the door. I thought he’d unbolt it and save the door but no. When we left with our prize and still a little shocked at the demolition of the door, we turned a corner and found ourselves on a street of woodworking shops which were making doors just like the old one we had just destroyed.


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