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Inverted Vedute

The Porta del Popolo, also known as Porta Flaminia, is the north gate of old Rome and the ancient Aurelian Walls. Up until the 1800s, this gate was the place where foreigners from the north first entered Rome and citizens within could leave the city. Today, the transition from the Piazza del Popolo to the newer neighborhoods beyond still creates a sense of arrival and departure.

The gate communicates my passage. It tells me clearly that I am leaving something behind and entering something new. I thought Rome was continuous but the gate opened my eyes to the city’s divisions. As I stood under the arch, captivated by two separate places, I realized that the gate is the only connection between them. The walls enclose the spaces but the small arch connects pedestrians from place to place. Though the view of the piazza from the north gate is beautiful enough by itself, the experience intensified when I passed through—leaving the beauty behind.

I now understand Rome’s layers in a different way. As the city progresses through time, its old walls become irrelevant and new neighborhoods are added. A gate that communicates departure of the ancient Roman city changes the way I view the Rome of the 21st century. Long ago I would have been leaving Rome through the same north gate but today I am crossing into a new neighborhood. This new neighborhood contains new apartments, wide streets with speeding traffic, American fast food chains (i.e., Burger King), and a glass-clad bank. People cross the street in groups, flooding crossing lanes and sidewalks under multistory apartments. When I look back at Piazza del Popolo, I am reminded of Rome’s history. Instead of just looking at this one vedute, my view has changed to include its entire milieu. I now see myself as more of an explorer who uncovers meaning by searching deeper than the average visitor.