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10 Alluring Historic Architectural Features You Can Pay Attention To Whilst Traveling

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10 Alluring Historic Architectural Features You Can Pay Attention to Whilst Traveling

Thanks to many innovative and impressive minds of designers, we can see some mind blowing architectural features wherever we travel to our lovely planet. No matter what, there are still some spectacular historic architectural features that have fascinating stories behind. In this article, we dedicate a special attention exactly to some of those 10 most intriguing (and rather weird) architectural features from the past. You can see almost all of these, if you travel around Europe.

10) The Witch Windows of Vermont

10 Alluring Historic Architectural Features - Outchemy
Photo credit: Wikimedia

Witch windows are always rotated 45 degrees, and usually places in the gable-end wall of a house. Positioned diagonal and parallel to the roof slope, gives additional value to the witch windows – they could fit places where traditional windows just won’t. It has also been suggested that witch windows were for the first time installed as a result of cold winters in Vermont (where you can encounter many), whilst traditional windows let in too much of a draft in winter.

They got the name by popular superstitions that witches could not fly inside the house through these type of windows. Oftentimes, they are also known as “coffin windows”, as they also resemble coffins, or because through these odd-shaped windows exactly coffins were removed from the house, as there was no other way possible.

Witch windows are also known as “sideways windows”, “Vermont windows” or “lazy windows”.

9) The Widow’s Walks or Captain’s Walk

10 Alluring Historic Architectural Features - Outchemy
Photo credit: Wikimedia

A widow’s walk is a small, railed platform situated on a rooftop of a house, which gives the clear view to the surrounding area. It is said that widow’s walk was oftentimes used by faithful wives of sailors, who would stand on these balconies whenever they had time, just to wait for their husbands to come back from their arduous journeys from the seas. Regardless their faithfulness, many of those husbands had died at sea, hence the platform picked its name “widow’s walk”.

This historic architectural feature is also known by another name – “captain’s walk”. They have been also used by sea merchants who, after notified that a ship is approaching, would have climbed atop the roof platform to confirm that their vessel had safely returned to the port.

The most practical usage of this architectural feature, historians agree that is had been in case of chimney fires. People used to keep leather buckets full of sand or water in their homes. In case of fire, these buckets were thrown from the widow’s walk to prevent further fire damage.

8) Cartouches

10 Alluring Historic Architectural Features - Outchemy
Photo credit: Wikimedia

Elaborated, often scrolled design made of stone, wood or metal, named as cartouche, became an important architectural feature throughout the 16th century. Some say that it was developed from flattened oval shapes that were oftentimes used for highlighting the names of ancient Egyptian royal families. From then on, cartouche designs have had multiple functions, and surrounded anything, from important messages and coats of arms, to landscape and genre paintings both in architecture and decorative arts.

Cartouches also helped in times when the streets did not have names or numbers. Or when people were illiterate. They helped the homes and businesses identification. Oftentimes cartouches were decorated with signs of reliefs that illustrated the occupant’s work or even social status. For instance, a golden cup would have designated the house of a goldsmith.

7) False Doors

10 Alluring Historic Architectural Features - Outchemy
Photo credit: Wikimedia

False doors were common historic architectural elements to be found in Egyptian tombs, Etruscan tombs, and Roman villas. False doors could be really found in Egyptian tombs and temples, and are also known as “Ka doors”, as they allowed the Ka, an element of the soul, to interact with the rest of the physical world, by passing exactly through these type of doors.

False doors were also found in ancient Etruria. Some say they were used as a door into the tomb itself, but for others, interpretations were that they lead to the underworld. More practical reason could be that those false doors just marked a place where a family can carve a door, in case the tomb’s expansion might be required.

In Roman villas, that you can see if you travel around Europe, false doors had more of a decorative nature. Oftentimes, they were painted opposite real doors, just to enable symmetry, and to make the room appear more spacious.

6) Devil’s Doors

10 Alluring Historic Architectural Features - Outchemy
Photo credit: Wikimedia

Aside false doors, the past keeps memories of “the devil’s door”. Oftentimes these were done in ancient churches, in pre-conquest times to the 12th century. Today, all of these ancient doors remain blocked up for reasons unknown. A reason could be the widespread superstitions about the devil.

Other interpreters claim that such type of doors had served the Pagan population to enter the church, where the old Pagan site of worship was located. In this case, the name would have derived from the Christian population’s connection between the old belief systems and the devil.

5) The Priest Holes

10 Alluring Historic Architectural Features - Outchemy
Photo credit: Wikimedia

Back in the day, when the first Jesuits arrived in England, the parliament replied by enacting statutes that made it impossible for English people to convert to Catholicism. Later on, Catholic priests have even been forbidden entrance to England. Anybody who was caught harboring them was punished severely. There were even priest hunters whose jobs had been to hunt and locate Catholic priests.

In such times of hostility, Catholic families would build hiding places. Priest holes were built in fireplaces, attics and staircases – usually very small, with no room for standing or moving about (just think of the Harry Potter closet). One of the most famous designers of priest holes had been Nicholas Owen, who had managed to construct astonishing hiding places that oftentimes did not offer any escape route. That has been the reason of why some hiding priests had died, as they were not able to access any food or oxygen.

4) Sanctuary Knocker

10 Alluring Historic Architectural Features - Outchemy
Photo credit: Peter McLeon

If you visit a real, medieval Christian church, on your travel around Europe, chances are that you will see this type of metal ornamented rings. These are known as sanctuary knockers. In middle ages, if a refugee – a person who had committed murder in self-defense or broke out of prison – touched the sanctuary knocker, it meant the person would be immune from arrest.

One interesting story relates to the Durham Cathedral in England, where a refugee had received a 37 days of sanctuary. That instance of time often helped the refugee to make an agreement with their enemy, or in some cases to plan escape.

3) Basque House Lintels

10 Alluring Historic Architectural Features - Outchemy
Photo credit: Asp/Wikimedia

If you happen to travel around France, and if you end up exploring the Basque region, scope some of the most traditionally looking Basque houses. You might notice pieces of lintel hanging above the entrance door to the house. The lintel was usually carved with names of the first house owner, as well as the date it was built. Other lintels also had carvings of religious symbols, like the Basque cross which represented the Sun.

One house in the Labourd village gives the information that it was built in 1662, by a woman, and with money that her son had sent her from the West Indies.

2) Stumble Steps

10 Alluring Historic Architectural Features - Outchemy

Stumble steps were strategic historical architectural feature that you can stumble upon castles if you travel around Europe. These were mostly built in medieval times, and were designed to turn up-right. This was due to the fact that most individuals are/were right-handed. In case enemies were entering the castle, the stumble stairs would give the defender a more advanced position, above the attacker. The attacker, coming up these stairs, would find his sword cramped by the adjacent wall, decreasing his fighting ability. If the family was left-handed, then they had their circular stairs designed up-left.

Aside, circular stairs had no handrails, so the defender could easily push the attacker off the stairs. The steps also always had different heights and widths, thus making further challenge for the attacker to climb and advance in his effort to take over the castle.

1) Murder Holes

10 Alluring Historic Architectural Features - Outchemy

Last but not least, on this list we also give insight to murder holes. Just like stumble steps, these also belong to the medieval castles. Murder holes were usually situated around the castle’s main entrance, and in the gatehouse passages. Murder holes were essential for defense strategy in the medieval times. Through the murder holes, defenders attacked invaders with various things (boiling water, hot sand, stones, oil or tar). In other more gross scenarios, defenders also used dead bodies of animals and humans.

Advanced design of murder holes were machicolations. Similar to the murder holes, these also enabled the defender a better position. They were initially made of wood, and later on were made of stone. Oftentimes, machicolations were installed on the castle walls, so that defenders could jump above the enemy and kill the invaders.

So much so, welcome to Europe and its turbulent history you can discover while traveling! 

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