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When Restoration Approaches Re-Creation:
The Porta Venere of Spello

[image ALT: A view of the Porta Venere in Spello from the inside (South). It shows a single arch over the street, and a house incorporating another filled-in arch. It is much lower than the present triple-archway portion of the gate, and appears to be of a different kind of stone. The West tower is not visible (off-camera), but most of the East tower is, and it looks pretty much as it does now, although obscured by then recent construction.]

The visitor to Spello is — rightly — impressed, especially in the raking light of late afternoon, by the beautiful "Porta Venere", with its splendid Roman towers, as you've seen her on my main page. But things are not often what they seem.

The view above, from the Alinari photo library, reproduced in a standard reference work on Spello published in 1913,​a shows a strikingly different scene: only one clear archway, over the street, thru which, as now, you can see the Porta S. Angelo. Another archway has been filled in to build the house on the right: notice that both arches are roughly the same height. When you compare this photo with the rather similar view, towards the bottom of this page, that I took in 1997, you'll also see that the upper level of the arches has been raised.

That's confirmed by this charming if not very good early 20c fresco vignette, a bit mildewed, in the former Sala del Consiglio of the Palazzo Comunale; very likely adapted from this very photo above, mind you:

[image ALT: Much the same view as above, same angle, same period, but painted; the wall is now mildewing.]

The restorers did a very nice job, based in part on the Porta Consolare and Roman gates elsewhere, in part on matching a small portion of ancient masonry — see the view of the other side of the gate on the homepage — but what you see below is arguably a piece of early‑20c Fascist-style architecture.

[image ALT: The same gate from a very similar angle. It shows three arches: the central one is taller and over the street; the others on either side provide pedestrian passageways. The obscuring houses have been removed, so that the East tower is visible. The West tower has had a new horizontal coping added, and the East tower matches it.]

Finally, you must not be fooled by the small ruinlike piles of stone over the archways: there was indeed a second story, but (as you saw in the pictures above) we had none of it left. The function of these modern stones is twofold. They give the restoration a spurious air of antiquity; and they mark a second story that almost certainly existed at one time: based on other Roman gates elsewhere, archaeologists feel this second story featured a row of smaller arches. They disagree on a precise reconstruction: some believe there were 5 arches, others 7.


a Giulio Urbini, Spello, Bevagna, Montefalco (Bergamo, 1913),  p16. The entire book is onsite.

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Page updated: 30 Jul 17