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City walls - Subject of Fear and Trust

Dirk Lauwaert

City walls destroyed

During the 19th century, many European cities started to demolish the city walls to open up the city. In Bologna this happened rather late in 1902; in Maastricht the destruction took place in the late 1860s and early 1870s. In a phenomenology of urban space the notions of closed and open space are crucial. City walls make up an essential part of the identity of the city and of urban space. Enclosures generate very pleasurable city space; the encircling walls give the city direction and a clearly indicated centre. Destroying that urban construction, as happened in the 19th century in many places, implies eliminating one of the city's defining factors. The demolishing of the city walls destroyed de city as a closed end centered construction.


Cavazza Giuseppe | Bologna | Bologna Cineteca di Bologna | Inizio delle demolizioni della mura presso Porta Castiglione | In Porte e Mura della Città di Bologna


Weijnen Theodoor | Maastricht | Maastricht Stadsarchief | Ontmanteling van Maastricht / St Maartens Poort Gezicht van Buiten

Production of space

The new open space is a space without a frame. Frames are essential as a dividing border around a photograph, painting or sculpture. Without a frame the city space lacks organisation. Some containment is needed to organize space. A small part of the citizens of Maastricht, Bologna and other cities strongly opposed the destruction of the city walls. The opening of the cities was the subject of intense social, cultural and political debate. The gates, it was argued, were of historical interest and boost tourist activities.
But they were also zones of economic importance: goods were carried into the cities through the city gates, taxes were charged, people could be controlled. City gates generated income and control. Once the walls no longer stood erect, transactions of goods at checkpoints ended and cities had to organize their income differently.
Demolishing the walls was also part of the redefinition of the military organisation of the various territories, so military logic also entered the discussions. Bologna, for instance, was no longer an important city to defend in the newly unified Italian state. As a result, the military abandoned the complicated construction.
The destruction of city walls is capitalistic production of space. It is a factory that produced in the immediate vicinity of the historical centre room to construct villas and factories and parks and green space. Doing away with military and enclosing constructions and creating a completely new and open space engendered a paradigm change that happened in a limited period of time - a few weeks or months.

Fear and trust

The dividing line of the city walls creates neither security nor insecurity, but order, which does not do away with insecurity and security - feelings that are somehow indivisible. The utopia of a secured world is absolutely untenable. Fear is the underbelly of trust. Trust is more difficult to organise in an open space, in a sprawling urban context; trust can much easier be organised within an enclosed space where things have a direction and an urban solution. Outside the walls there is a completely different space. And yet, the outside does not exist in direct confrontation with the inside, except when there is a war being waged. In times of peace there are fields around the city, and often inside. The opposition is never that clearcut.

Fear in the 19th century

Fear is very present in the 19th century; it has to do with the body and sexuality. There is fear of contamination, of prostitution and homosexuality and there is a medical, urban policy that attempts to quench that incredible fear at the belly of society. The upper classes, the people who run society, who are responsible for the medical state of the population and for education are emotionally less than stable. The working classes, the local proletariat have the same bodily fears. La peur is central to the 19th century city. One should read these images of city walls and their destruction in this context. Fear in the 19th century concerns the masses. They trigger fear in the upper classes and the authorities: masses cannot be identified, localised or stabilised. In the 19th century a controlling system was set up, identity cards were introduced and precise information gathered. A centralised fiscal system is used at the end of the 19th century, making it necessary to locate every individual. The demolition of most of the city walls and fortifications around Maastricht was part of this problematic: creating space for a growing population and expanding industry.
Both detective and reporter were new and important figures in the 19th century imaginary and closely linked at that. Both detective and reporter were conquerors of fear because they searched fearlessly in the dark. The sense of fear is contagious and spreads through society very quickly. It is like a vortex that absorbs everything it comes across. It is the destroyer of movement and of imagination. It blocks imagination but at the same time it has everything to do with imagination. Without imagination we would have much less fear, so to combat fear we have to eliminate imagination. Fear is the dark side of our imagination.

Cavazza Giuseppe | Bologna | Bologna Cineteca di Bologna | Mura Saragozza - S. Isaia - Torrione semicircolare - dettaglio | In Porte e Mura della Città di Bologna

The square of fear

Thinking through the opposition between security and insecurity, I thought of the semiotic square, which generates subcategories. Besides the concepts of security and insecurity, there are the much more intriguing positions of non-security and non-insecurity.
Anyway, talking about security and insecurity requires a rich and subtle vocabulary. But in fact the discourse starts from the negative term - insecurity - as the kernel of this semantic field. Perhaps we should start making this field more complex. Starting from insecurity we generate along the semantic square hypothetical positions as non-insecurity and non-security, which open up fear.

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