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Still the Main Entrance to Hispellum

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Like the Porta Venere this gate is part of the west walls of Spello; but whereas that other gate, essentially a decorative side door, slowly drowned in later constructions to be restored only in the early part of last century, the Porta Consolare always remained the main gate to the city. Its fortifications were added to in the Middle Ages — the tower on the right is medieval — and when a group of attractive Roman statues, apparently a family group of man, woman and child, were found in the area of the amphitheatre, they were mounted on brackets on the gate.

And yes, that's a tree on the top of the tower: more precisely, an olive tree that is included in the yearly harvest.

The current state of the gate is an illustration of the difficulties of archaeology in an urban setting. With 80% of the upper town built on Roman foundations, Spello is the most Roman of all the comuni of Umbria; but those foundations are well out of sight. The street level today is one to two meters above that of Roman times, as shown by this attractive early 20c photograph in Urbini's Spello, Bevagna, Monte­falco or even this 16c fresco in the Palazzo Comunale:

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At the same time, the Porta Consolare has always been the main entrance to the city. When it was excavated in the early part of the 20c, the lower level of the restored Roman entrance was no longer the same as that of the street inside the walls.

One solution for showcasing the gate and avoiding the awkward change in level (ask anyone who's walked thru the gate with a heavy suitcase!) would have been to cut it off from the street grid behind it; pedestrians would use the same entrance as cars now do, around the corner behind the tower, where at some time since the Middle Ages a breach was made in the walls.

Such a solution, however, would have reduced the Roman gate to a sideshow. Inconveniently therefore, but quite properly, it was decided to retain the Consolare in its 2000‑year‑old function: a suspended concrete pedestrian ramp was run thru the gate, overhanging some of the excavated Roman remains, which include the original base of a flanking tower. From inside the town, the result is ugly and chaotic; yet it's a good compromise between the daily life of a living town, its civic pride and the interests of archaeology and tourism:

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Page updated: 8 Oct 05