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City Gates & Walls

A city’s identity, in particularly how each city is an incarnation of fundamental urban values, yet at the same time distinguishable from all other cities, is fundamental to how a city is imagined. A visualization of that individual character made use of two arguments: the unique skyline (the profile) and the line delineated by the walls, indicating how far that uniqueness extended. Patron saints of cities carried their cities on a scale, while the walls were depicted clenching the skyline like a baking tin embracing a layer cake. It was a city’s identity, its calling card.

Consequently, with the demolition of the walls, one of the two coordinates of that identity had disappeared. That people everywhere in the 19th century were doing just that indeed raises a lot of questions. What was it in the identity of a city that was unavoidably changed by these demolitions? What change did the removal of a city’s boundaries bring to the way people experienced it? Where would the historic city centre be now that it no longer had geometric confirmation? Of what was the centre a centre when the circle of the walls was destroyed? Behind the steady fading away of the walls lay essential choices about modern urbanity. Can the iconography of the walls give us some insight into those choices?

The majority of these photographs were being produced in the period when the concept of the ‘city ring’ was being developed. This was what the discussion was about in Adolf Duclos’s Les futurs boulevards de Bruges (1897). The rings (Duclos referred to them as the ‘Cingels’), concentric avenues that opened up an entirely new chapter in city phenomenology, also provided a new urban philosophy in the service of a previously programmed pedestrian trajectory, which in turn also generated its own puzzles (as we see in the prints by Max Klinger). A promenade along these new boulevards was something diametrically opposed to the sojourns of the flaneur.

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