The Unique Shop Doors of Kotor

Sitting amid the grand Venetian palaces and churches of Kotor were the lowly shops where the real day-to-day business of the fortified city took place.

Medieval architects, not to be intimidated by the refinement of their noble neighbors, developed shop fronts with a simple elegance that was both practical and beautiful, blending seamlessly into their environs.

IMG_0236

The typical three-story merchant building had a shop on the ground floor with accommodation above. But it was the unique shop door that was genius. The combination door and window, in a single frame spanned by a semicircular stone arch, made it unique.

Door 6JPG

The shopkeeper was able to close the door, then open the window to sell goods over the counter. The doors also proved to be the perfect place to socialize.

Along the coastal towns of the Adriatic the doors were known as vrata na koljeno or “door on the knee.”

Women in Doorway

These creative “knee doors” have definitely stood the test of time, retaining their charm and usefulness, while serving as a conversation hub in present day.

Door 11

Although most of the knee doors we saw had an arched opening, there was the occasional “square peg” that showed up … and some had just disappeared!

Former Door

We’re always on the lookout for unique architectural details, and we hit the motherlode in Kotor. We realized that we had also seen the knee doors when we visited Dubrovnik.

What about you. Have you encountered any vrata na koljeno in your travels?

Cheers!
Terri & James

Knee Doors in Dubrovnik
Knee Doors in Dubrovnik

Author: gallivance.net

We're Terri and James Vance - high school sweethearts who went on to international careers and became world nomads. Today, 65 countries later, we're still traveling ... and still in love. Check out Our Story for more of the backstory at gallivance.net.

60 thoughts

    1. Curt, for some reason the knee doors in Kotor really stood out. But when we were in Dubrovnik we totally missed them, too. We didn’t realize they were there until we just looked back at our photos! Let us know if you find any more. ~Terri

    1. I really loved Kotor, Andrew. And I agree about the comparisons to Dubrovnik. To me, Kotor felt more intimate with a great sense of mystery – two things I enjoy in a new city. ~Terri

    1. Many thanks, Fiona. It’s such a clever design – for both then and now. It’s like a spin on the “Dutch Door” … but more. 🙂 Have you seen these knee doors in your travels? ~Terri

  1. What a lovely door theme! So much fun to scroll through and see all of the architectural creativity. Thanks for sharing! Wishing you continued safe and inspiring travels!

    1. Why thank you, Liz. I really had to laugh when I stumbled across the one that had been totally infilled with stones, leaving the outline intact. Now THAT was some creative remodeling! 🙂 Many thanks, too, for the travel wishes. It looks like you’re really enjoying the Autumn there in Sweden. Have you stumbled across any unique doors lately? ~Terri

    1. Thank you, Laura. It does seem like a very cool way to do business. And most of the present-day shops allow customers to also come inside where they have these beautiful brick vaulted ceilings. And I agree with you about the door making or breaking a building – my architect friend describes it as the “lipstick” on a smile. 🙂 ~Terri

    1. Oh, you are so clever, Carol! When I finally found out what the doors were called, I thought it was because the window ledge came up to someone’s (very tall) knee. But your explanation makes so much more sense. Thanks for your great insight! 🙂 ~Terri

    1. They are certainly unique, Martha. We didn’t realize that we’d seen them before until we were looking back through our Dubrovnik photos and there they were. We had totally missed them in all of our strolls around town. Duh! 🙂 ~Terri

    1. We hadn’t either, Lynn. On first glance I thought they were arched French doors, but then I realized half of one side was missing. Then I started looking closer. We kept calling them “3/4 doors.” 🙂 ~Terri

    1. We thought they were a first for us too, Leslie, but when we looked back at our Dubrovnik photos we spied them again! We’d been totally oblivious – or gobsmacked by all the other gorgeous sights! 🙂 ~Terri

    1. Marilyn, at first we wondered if they could have been stable doors long ago, with a half window for livestock to look out. But further research indicated they were shops all along. ~Terri

    1. This is a wonderful design: total access, partial access, or no access – all with one device. Not bad. And I suspect that the full door helped keep roaming livestock out of the shop. ~James

  2. You are right, these doors are unique. Many refinements have come along architecturally since medieval times, but they are not all necessarily improvements. They certainly blend in seamlessly with their settings. – Mike

    1. Honestly Mike, I think these doors are brilliant and I can’t see any way to improve on the design. They’re functional, attractive, structurally strong, and most of all, multipurpose. Not bad for a four hundred-year-old design. ~James

  3. I wonder if I’ve seen any in those two places?! If I have, I did not notice enough to photograph them especially … how nice for me to be able to benefit from your keen eyes!

    1. Don’t feel so bad Lexie, as we said to Curt, we missed them in Dubrovnik. And only after we saw them in Kotor did we go back to our photos and say: “Yep, there they were, right in front of us.” I guess we were too busy gawking at everything else. ~James

    1. I didn’t know that Susan – thanks for the info. So glad we made it there just ahead of the curve. 🙂 We wanted to go there a few years ago when we visited Dubrovnik, but couldn’t work it out. We were determined this time. ~Terri

    1. Darlene, Kotor is famous for its cat population – they’re everywhere – and this is an artisan gift shop that caters to cat lovers with all types of nice feline goodies. I didn’t see any live cats for sale (although I bet the owner could help in that department). 🙂 It even has its own entry on Tripadvisor. ~Terri

      http://www.tripadvisor.com/Attraction_Review-g295381-d7682510-Reviews-Cats_of_Kotor_Art_and_Handicraft_Gallery-Kotor_Kotor_Municipality.html

  4. I don’t think have ever seen doors like these but then again , since I was in Dubrovnik, I must not have been looking for them. All right it’s on the list for future quests. I shall call you immediately from a far flung corner of the globe when a knee door has been located. 🙂

    1. Sue, we didn’t notice them in Dubrovnik, either. Not until we looked back at our photos (this week) did we realize we’d stared directly at them! Boy did we feel silly. Glad to know you’ll have me on speed dial whenever you stumble across them. 🙂 How is you Mom’s move going? ~Terri

      1. That makes me feel much better! I will have to look at our Dubrovnik photos.
        Mom is all settled and today I drove back to Calgary. Mom is so happy to start this new chapter. It warms my heart. Thanks so much for asking Terri.

    1. So glad that you enjoyed the doors, Rusha. If I had photos of all the things I wish I’d photographed, I’d have to get a new hard drive for my computer! But I do like your idea of starting the trek all over again. 🙂 Just imagine! ~Terri

    1. Hi Carl, I think it was the arched doorframe that caught my attention, too. Then when I saw the half window on the knee wall I was hooked. So glad that you stopped by. 🙂 Thanks. All the best, Terri

    1. Wonderful description, Bun! It’s always great to look at things from a different perspective. Maybe you could use these photos to help you convince your wife to let you cut the new window. 🙂 ~Terri

    1. We’ve always loved doors and windows Chris. In many places they’re like the lipstick on the face of the building, which shows a bit of colorful uniqueness. We saw some dandy Art Nouveau doors in Helsinki. ~James

    1. Alison, thanks for the link to our post on the Medieval doors of Kotor. In addition to being architecturally interesting, they’re infinitely functional – a great combination. We also saw the same kind of doors in Dubrovnik. ~James

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