If, like me, you love wandering along medieval streets in France, you will become aware of the many beautiful types of huge wooden doors which were created centuries ago to shut off the shady interior courtyards of medieval private mansions or hôtels from the outside world. So many of these wonderful doors are deteriorating today, faded and crumbling, sad reminders of a glorious past. I had often wondered what would happen when these magnificent historic structures finally fell to the ground in pieces.
So it came as a surprise and a joy to me, when, on holiday two years ago in the atmospheric little town of Pézenas, which lies between Montpellier and Béziers in the south of France, we discovered a tiny museum devoted entirely to the display and conservation of ancient regional doors and door furniture. It is situated on the quiet street of Rue Montmorency, just across the street from the remains of the castle. Free entry guarantees a steady stream of curious visitors, who find so much more than they expect as they wander between the rows of doors dating from the 15th century onwards.
Here there are also displays of 17th century ironwork, from keys, latches and hinges to delicate door knockers in the shape of women’s hands. The hand-shaped door knockers are thought to originate from the Hand of Fatima, a palm-shaped amulet to protect against evil, and are to be found in many countries bordering the Mediterranean. If you look closely, they vary enormously in size, some being left-handed and others right-handed, with rings on different fingers and sleeve patterns reflecting the dress of the period in which they were made. I was able to buy a beautiful 19th century version in a Montpellier market to bring home with me.
The Musée de la Porte also houses a rare window from the 17th century, complete with its tiny diamond-paned glass as well as furniture, including a copy of the high-backed armchair in which the playwright Molière is said to have sat whenever he visited the local barber Guillaume Gely while staying in Pézenas during the 1650s. Here Molière could observe the behaviour of local society and gain inspiration for future satirical plays. Samples of many of the different types of wood used for carving are on display in the museum, including ash, elm, beech, lime, almond, walnut and cherry, allowing you to see the beauty of their various textures and colours.
The museum is the brainchild of local master carpenter and collector Serge Ivorra, who opened the doors to the public in 1993 with the help of his friend Guy Abellanet. Not only does Serge preserve these relics from the past and make them available for us to see, but he also faithfully recreates stunning new versions for patrons who are able to commission them. Some can be found carefully reinstalled in doorways of private local hôtels, such as the Hôtel d’Agde de Fondousse, which dates from the beginning of the 17th century. Serge carved the door from chestnut, replacing it within its complex structure of antique columns and entablature. These pictures show it before and after restoration.
If your interest has been piqued by all the sights in this little gem of a museum, you can have a look around Serge Ivorra’s own workshop only a short distance further along the Rue Montmorency and see the amazing new doors he is in the process of carving. They are real works of art, produced with patience, skill and love: http://metiersdart.cahm.net/fr/artisans/ivorra-serge.html
Serge has an extensive knowledge of the craft and materials with which he works and is willing to share this with any visitor who has questions to ask.
The museum and workshop are located in a quiet pedestrianised part of the historic centre of Pézenas, not far from a range of craft workshops, antique dealers, boutiques, cafés and restaurants. There is an attractive market in the nearby square several days a week and several music festivals during the year.