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The Porta Venere and the "Towers of Propertius"


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The gate is on the west flank of the crest of Spello, and you are looking out over the edge of the town, SSW towards Montefalco. Sunset is a good time to catch the warmth of the stone.

Now before we go any further, we should say that the moniker "Torri di Properzio" given to the towers, while affectionate, is quite misleading: the poet Propertius probably had nothing to do with them at all. (Amusingly, yet another gate — a medieval one — has had the connection wished on it too.)

It's fairly certain, mind you, that Propertius was born somewhere around here. Scholarly consensus, shifting at the secular pace of a haphazardly moving sand dune, currently favors Assisi 5 km north of here. Both Spello and Bevagna, about 9 km SE, are in the running as well. The chief clue given by the poet himself is a passage in Book IV, lines 121 ff. stating that his family's Penates were Umbrian, and adding that the district of Bevagna is a rainy place with cows and that Assisi has walls; but although Hispellum was in that district, he doesn't mention the actual city. Those wishing to pursue the whole business will find Propertius and the arguments in more detail, and some scholarly articles, collected on this page about Bevagna.

Back to the gate itself, then. Here is a more formal shot of it; but beware of the central travertine arches, an early 20c reconstruction. Not only there is a "feeling" of Fascist architecture to them, but take a good look at the far right-hand portion, over the westernmost arch: that small dark section is undoubtedly ancient travertine, suddenly giving way to the other.


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I don't seem to have a close view of this N side of the gate, but judge for yourself from this inside view:


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The smaller and much more rustic gate visible thru the main archway, by the way, is the medieval Porta Sant' Angelo. Notice how close it is, about 30 meters away: a clear sign that Spello was hardly bigger in the Middle Ages than in Roman times, even if the steep slope here is partly responsible. I'll have more to say about this soon.

Still not convinced about the arches being a product of the 20th century? Actually, neither was I, completely, until I dug up this old photograph — matter settled, I think. So is the gate still Roman? That's a basic question: I'll have more to say about that, too.

Both of the twelve-sided towers are largely original, however: and at close range the masonry of the lower parts of the towers is better and tighter fitting, even after 2000 years, than that of the modern arches. (Any budding archaeologists out there, remember, judge only the lower courses of these things; and even then you're not quite safe!)


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Page updated: 1 Jun 01