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Things You Never Knew About Gates!

Updated on December 13, 2013

At the end of the garden, leading to the street, blocking the stairs from the children or stopping the dogs escaping, in country fields protecting the flock and on zoo cages protecting the humans from the lions, gates are everywhere and a familiar part of daily life in all their forms. From simple wooden structures to elaborate electronically controlled barriers, gates are so essential that we barely notice them as we go about our everyday living. Yet it hasn’t always been this way.

Historians think that gates have been a feature of the landscape ever since the earliest men learned how to build walls around their camps and settlements. Where a wall has to be built to protect the population, the crops or the livestock, there has to be an access point through which workers can enter. A small wall might be of a height which people can jump over, but this would rapidly prove ineffective against other invading humans. The common consensus is that gates were created at around the same time as the development of the wall, and in the ancient civilisations of the Near East, there is evidence of plans for town gates which can be dated back to the Early Bronze Age or 3300BC.

Nowadays, most people know the word for a gate and there are few synonyms. Even those that exist are connected to other parts of the building: a gate could be an entrance, entry way, an access, or an opening, but these are somehow more descriptive than the simple noun itself. The only real other noun for the same ‘thing’ is a door, but in our understanding those are inside the property, whereas gates are something external. In the old languages and dialects, a gate was also known as a ‘yett’ or a ‘port’ in other areas. The word we have today, gate, comes from the Middle English word ‘geat’ which is pronounced similarly. That word is believed to have come from the Old Norse ‘gat’ or ‘gata’ which describes the gap in the wall, rather than specifically referring to the barrier across it. The first recorded use of the word gate is found before the 12th century.

Not all gates are functional, though. In our society we use them for practical purposes, but in older times the city gate was also a monumental indication of the town’s barrier and boundary. In Eastern cultures they are often more symbolic. In Japan, the suffix ‘mon’ is used to describe various kinds of gates, often attached to religious buildings. Most temple gates cannot be fully shut, but simply are used to mark the change in location between the sacred and the everyday.

The use of the word gate continues to evolve...
The use of the word gate continues to evolve...

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