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19th century topographic photography in Bruges, Bologna and Maastricht

Materials and their interpretation

Walls and gates as motifs

City walls and city gates are visual and spatial motifs that determine the city. In the proximity of the walls, the urban sense and meaning of space - the concepts of inclusion and exclusion - change and different reactions are triggered. The baroque view of the city seems to be mainly from outside of the city, but the 19th century develops the inside view of the city. In the Basoli picture the city walls and gates were not viewed as part of a whole construction in its own right, but from within the city, as being part of it.


Basoli Antonio | Porta Lame, Bologna | Esterno della Porta delle Lame di Bologna | 1817 | In Porte della citta di Bologna

A circle and a line

There are two lines to keep in mind when thinking about city walls. The first is the circular line that marks out the city. The walls form a circle around the city, and the gates are like pearls on a necklace. The gates are not only part of this necklace; they interrupt it as well. If you pass through the gates, at an angle of 90 degrees, a direct line goes from the outside of the city to the city centre. So a city gate is at the intersection of two lines: a circular line and a direct line. The direct line is an economic line: the line of transportation of goods and persons. The circular line was the military line, but since there is no longer any military activity, this line is used to take scenic and leisurely walks around the city. What happens when the circular line of the pleasure walk meets the contrasting direct and thus fast economic line to the centre? Would it allow insight into the complexity of the city gate which functions as a switch between two systems? Gates are weak links in the defence construction: points of resistance where you have to present your identity, where you have to pay taxes. It is a place of authority, a spot where different logics intersect.


Cavazza Giuseppe | Mura Lame-Galliera - tratto di mura all’interno presso i Magazzini generali | Bologna | Bologna Cineteca di Bologna | before 1902 | In Porte e Mura della Città di Bologna

A city gate is a narrow entranceway, a spatial concentration where people stand in line and are controlled; it is an intermediary point between inside and outside. This complicated switching between inside and outside creates turbulences. The surrounding of the city gate exude repression and oppression, but also of protection. Passing through the gates generates a feeling of being at home. Outside of the walls, there is another life and another project. A city gate is thus not only a visual theme that one can photograph, but there is also a spatial theme with dynamics of its own.

Outside and Inside Views

The outside view, an frontal view through the gate is a visitors experience. Coming from the outside of the city and going towards the centre along the dynamic street. Being a tourist view you would think this would be the predominant point of view, but that is not the case. The frontal view is on the contrary rare. Most views of city gates are taken from the left or right hand side and do not reveal the transportation dynamic but the volume of the construction. This as a clear visual indication of the loss of functionality. The photographers are no longer looking at the dynamics of the gate but at a construction made aesthetic. At the end of the 19th century the predominant visual strategy is to present these historical constructions as monumental.

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