The most photographed icon in Antigua Guatemala is, of course, the Arco de Santa Catalina on the 5th avenida. This is the restored, pastel yellow arch that spans one of the main streets of the town. Clock chimes more or less on the quarter hour. A more obscure, but still worthy, photogenic artifact is the Antigua Guatemala door knocker.
Of course, we are not the first amateur or professional photographers to try to capture the quirky charm of the “tocadores de puerta” that adorn the ancient and massive wooden doors, often riddled with ornate reinforcement bolts, found throughout the town.
The motif that seems the most prominent is the lion with a massive ring its mouth. You actually pound the ring into the door, and you get a walloping knock that penetrates even the two-to-three-foot deep walls of these colonial homes, many of which have been standing for 500 years.
The Spanish were not the first or only ones to embrace the lion as part of their heraldry, but they used its majesty and ferocity to supreme effect as a metaphor for their country and royalty’s world-conquering spirit. The theory is that these knockers in Antigua Guatemala are replacements for the originals that would have been mounted, starting in the 16th century.
Walking the streets of Antigua Guatemala searching for door knockers trains your eye spot them on almost every calle and avenida. The lion cub knocker seems to be the next most popular design, with the junior king of beasts‘ head serving as the noisy force that sends people on the inside to the front door.
Most of the doors are 10-feet high and have a small iron-barred portal from which residents can see who’s calling on them. Many doorways in Antigua have an buzzer-driven intercom system, making the door knocker redundant, but still an enduring historical link to the past. The intercoms also have iron cages around them to counter the light fingers of those passers-by with darker intentions.
Other Antigua Guatemala knockers include: the lion with the lolling tongue, which serves as the actual “let me in” signal that pounds the door; the grotesques (scary guys) who also have large hinged tongues that smack the door (weird); there’s one that looks like a border-line Green Man with beard, but then looks like Poseidon if you stare at it too long; the delicate shell knocker that punches noise-wise well above its weight; the elegant left-handed lady with ringed fingers (mildly sinister); the ones that look like Mayan men/women with knocker as necklace or nose ring; and finally, the filigreed knockers in the shape of horse shoes for luck.
Though you could walk the streets of Antigua Guatemala for years and always see something that you had previously overlooked, a self-directed tour of the door knockers of Antigua Guatemala is a must for the visitor. And, it’s absolutely free. Knock, knock. Who’s there? Guate. Guate who? Guatever.