“The dead’s door” (“la porta del morto” in Italian) is a typical feature of medieval houses, a narrow door raised from street level which was built next to the main entrance. You can still see many of them if you look carefully around Cortona, either bricked up or used as the main entrance of old buildings (with a few steps). What is their story?
The ground floor of a building during medieval times was very important as it featured the workshop, a small store or the stable for the horses. The staircase leading to the upper floor, home of the family, was typically very narrow, to save space for the business at the street level.
When a member of the family died, the coffin could not get out from the narrow bend of the stairs so they needed to open a door on the lending, approximately half meter from the ground… this is the so called “dead’s door”. The family only opened the door in case of a funeral. *
With time, the door started to be associated with bad luck and superstition. No living person could go through that door, living and dead people required two separate entrances… Many believed that if the dead ones left the house with their feet ahead (in a coffin), their souls would never came back to harass the living ones. Maybe our ancestors were afraid of ghosts?
That’s why it was important that the door remained always closed, even bricked up, so no ghost could come back to the house or any living person could not go through the door even by mistake!
Ps. I’ve read that the door was also used as the fastest way to access the house without having to go through to the workshop, which makes sense… But the story of the coffins is much more fun and interesting, don’t you think?