Windows on Europe

I call them Portals on my website. Not the nerdy type that has to do with the Internet, but the visual kind involving pretty doors and windows. My fascination with entryways began years ago on trips to Europe.

In the crowded alleys and streets of villages throughout France and Italy (to mention a few), the narrow facade of a home may be all that’s visible to the outside world. So, it’s not surprising that Europeans regularly use their frontage as a means of self-expression. The choice of motif, color, and decor all tell a personal story. And in many cases, the ancestry of the place shouts loud and clear, adding historical context to the subject.

Most of my photography falls under the category of “grand landscapes” (less close-ups and macros), but I enjoy taking the time to photograph doors and windows whenever possible, especially under the right light and conditions (preferably in the shade or overcast skies to avoid bright highlights). An old building with a flowered facade painted in bright colors can reveal much about it occupants. My favorites are those that exhibit not only color, but also texture, shapes, beliefs, and a sense of antiquity.

Europe is certainly not the only continent having pretty windows and doors. North America too has its share but rarely are they given the same sense of priority. Since our homes tend to be bigger here, our facades often play a less momentous role in asserting likes, beliefs, and whims.

It can also be tricky to get close enough to photograph the facades of private homes in North America. The idea of walking up to a house, setting up a tripod, and snapping photos without asking permission is ill-advised in this country, making the prospect less likely and downright risky. But in the narrow confines of European alleys, it’s generally accepted and oftentimes encouraged with local pride.

So, I’ve selected a dozen images of my favorite European facades for this article, with a backstory under each photo to provide a bit of context. I hope you enjoy this brief detour from my usual photography.

Portovenere is a village on the Ligurian coast of Italy. The town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that dates back to the 1st century BC when it was a fishing community in ancient Roman times. The old town includes narrow cobblestone alleys with intriguing entryways like this one. The door to this private home features a gothic-like arch, a studded door, praying hands for a door knocker, and a niche statue. As a religious bastion, many Italian facades include symbols of religious fervor.

Pienza is a village in the province of Siena, in the Val d’Orcia region of Tuscany. In 1996, UNESCO declared the entire town a World Heritage Site. It was also the birthplace (1405) of Pope Pius II, who had the entire village rebuilt as an ideal Renaissance town after he became Pope. Much to the delight of photographers, the village includes numerous photogenic facades, many adorned with colorful plants and flowers. This one includes an orderly arrangement of plants along multiple layers of brick walls, among terra cotta pots and a few religious decors.
Meet Maurice the cat. Monterosso al Mare is a town in the province of La Spezia, part of the region of Liguria (northern Italy). It is the westernmost village in Cinque Terre, located on the Italian Riviera. The area is famous for its many lemon trees, white wines, grapes, and olives. The old town is replete with colorful windows and doors like this one. I had climbed a tiring stone staircase up a long hill to reach the top of the town when I came upon this scene. The cat, named Maurice, is a stray patiently waiting for food at the window of a friendly local who reached out to explain.
This is another photo from Monterosso al Mare on the Italian Riviera. In spite of the obvious wear visible along the wall, the owner had painstakingly applied attractive contrasts of pink, blue, and white paint around the plant that holds vivid pink flowers.
This is another doorway from the pretty village of Pienza in the region of Tuscany. Italy. This one includes an arched entry surrounded by colorful plants that offset the aged brickwork. Notice the horse tie rings left over from the past century on both sides of the door.
The island of Burano, Italy, is considered one of the most colorful places in the world. Located near Venice, the island features criss-crossed canals that are lined with historic houses painted in vivid hues (colors regulated by the town). Curtains are often placed in the doorway to allow the door to remain open on hot days while still maintaining a modicum of privacy along these narrow pedestrian-only alleys. The prominent yellows around the timeworn door draw the eye, while the green, rust, and white paints serve as contrasting elements in this image.
This door and window are on a rustic town building in the mountainous village of Santa Magdalena, located in the stunning Dolomites region of northern Italy. The X frame on the right side of the door nicely balances the window and splashy flower box to the left.
The charming village of Roussillon is located in the famous region of Provence, France. This place rewards visitors with its many picturesque scenes, including this painted garage door found in the heart of town — it appears to depict a Roman scene. I took the photo in the early morning hours to avoid harsh sunlight, with my tripod precariously placed at the very edge of the narrow lane to avert fast-moving cars.
I saw this door at a tiny mountain village in the Tuscan region of Italy. The color of the door contrasts beautifully with the taupe wall, but the most interesting feature of this image is the historic mailbox imprinted with the royal symbol. The last official king of Italy reigned for 34 days in 1946 (Umberto II), so the mailbox must surely date back to at least the 19th century. Also notice the horse tie ring on the right.
This window is on the Island of Burano, Italy. The place offers a huge assortment of facades, doors, windows, and shutters in a wide variety of color. The weatherworn paint on these framed shutters stand out against the faded ocre wall on the right and evidence of repairs to the left.
This image was also taken on the charming Island of Burano, Italy. It would be quite a challenge to find a more vibrant hue of pink than seen here. The house is located at the very end of a narrow allow, with the main facade painted deep rose and the abutting wall on the left painted royal blue. The green pots provide a welcomed break to all that pinkness, while the red bicycle blends quietly into the scene.
The cover photo is also my last image from the Island of Burano, Italy. The aged wall and color contrast between blue and orange hues instantly caught my eye as I walked by the wall. The bare bricks serve as a keyhole into the past, exposing elements that may have been first laid centuries ago.

8 thoughts on “Windows on Europe”

  1. The peeling layers of paint, stucco, structure, and aging artifacts give a marvelous tactile element to the photos. This is definitely a handsome book somewhere down the line. Well done as always…

  2. Awesome Michael! You see the beauty in everything! Your photos reflect that! Thanks for sharing!😃❤🎉

  3. This is awesome work — textures, colors, compositions, etc. Definitely worthy of a coffee table book. Of course, being a photographer, I’m also interested in technical aspects. I understand why you wouldn’t want to include such details for every photo, but if you would share, generally, what lens you typically use for shots like these, what f/stop, type of processing (enhance saturation?), that would be great.

    1. Thank you, Ron. I don’t habitually post the technical details of each photo only because the vast majority of my followers are not photographers. But I’m happy to share that information upon request. In the case of these photos of windows and doors, the settings are quite easy. The photos were taken at the native ISO for my camera (ISO 100 for most cameras), and at f/8 because my lenses perform best (i.e. sharp edge-to-edge) at that aperture. Since all these photos were taken from a tripod, the shutter speed is not significant since motion is not an issue. In aperture priority mode, the camera will set the shutter speed to compensate for the light. The only other thing I should mention is that these “intimate landscapes” were all taken away from direct sunlight to avoid burning out highlights on the colorful buildings. Hope this information helps!

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