The world in manhole covers

14 Jun

If you are at all interested in documenting a journey, I think it’s always fun to come up with some theme or subject that you can photograph throughout the trip–be it door lintels, tanks, pink flowers, trains, images of mermaids, cats in houses, or fashion in shop windows (all themes that I have considered). For our nine-month journey, I decided to collect images of manhole covers! This came about by accident; I happened to notice some interesting manhole covers while walking near our apartment in London, took photos of them, and then started to notice them wherever we went. I had actually already taken photos of some in the U.S., ones with interesting designs, so this wasn’t a stretch to continue finding them, since they are always underfoot and sometimes have florid designs in the cast iron out of which they were forged. I have tried to document them as clearly as I could, but my archiving methods got a little confused once my first camera was stolen in Barcelona, and after the laptop computer died in Zagreb. So here goes, my collection of manhole covers, hopefully correctly identified:

East Berlin, with an image of the TV Tower in the middle:


Gdansk, or Danzig as the Germans continue to call the now-Polish city, had some of the most formidable ones:


Vienna. The very chic one with wavy lines is, I think, more of a plaque in the sidewalk than a real cover, but I love that the ”real” one includes the checkered pattern so beloved by the Secessionists:


A little excursion across the Austrian border to Znaim, or now Znomo, in the Czech Republic, yielded these beauties, with a formidable eagle design:

Cesky Krumlov, that magnificent little Czech medieval town, was when I most enthusiastically sought out these objects (it was while moving backwards on the cobblestones to take a photo of one of them that I fell and smashed my knee and my camera). My favorite here is the one with the lion rampant:


Lisbon. One of these is actually from Sintra, and so labelled. I am fascinated that sometimes the designs were so elegant and painstakingly executed. The ones with the ship were found in Belem, near where Vasco da Gama set sail for the New World:


Barcelona was a veritable feast of sidewalk plaques! Some of these were for water, some for electricity, and the tiny ones I’m not sure what they were for. If you really got into the collection of such covers–and I’m sure there are collectors of manhole covers out there who can tell the entire history of iron foundries through them–you would be able to tell by the design when they were installed and by which company. Barcelona was also the only place I found old ceramic covers (the plain red one). I like the one with all the ”F”s–I saw that one all over the city:

Even in the small medieval town of Girona, I found examples forged specifically for the place:


I only recorded one cover in Athens, and two rather simple ones on the island of Andros. What I really found interesting was that so often these covers were made specifically for a place, and include the name of the town or region:


In Croatia, I only found square examples, no idea why. These are from Dubrovnik, Cavtat, and Zadar:


To my surprise and disappointment, Trieste did not yield very aesthetic examples, or perhaps I just didn’t find any but the most utilitarian designs here. Apparently aesthetic conceptions are not always applied to these functional objects:


But what fun to find these gems in Ljubljana! The one with the worker in the middle I found all over town, while the dragon appeared on those covers near the famous Dragon Bridge:


By the time we got to Germany, I was running out of steam, and forgot to record any in Munich, but did manage to get these two in Muffendorf, the village outside Bonn where we stayed. The yellow one is some kind of memorial plaque that was temporarily out of service as its street was dug up for new pipes:

I now find that, of course, there are just as many avid manhole lid collectors as there are any other collectors’ item. Perhaps I’ll do a little research on the history or whatever, but truthfully, these images were just a hook to archive our journey, and then I became intrigued with the variety of designs that occurred.

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