At the end of the 19th century, the avenues surrounding the historic center of Florence were built, almost completely destroying the last medieval city walls by Arnolfo di Cambio. Despite this, some evidence still survive in the city gates, that were part of these walls, and that are still visible along the avenues. The south gate, called “Porta Romana” (“Roman Gate”), because it leads to Rome, is also the one that preserves a section of the 14th century walls, and that can give a better idea of how this medieval fortified city was. Each entrance gate welcomed us into Florence, and it was decorated with frescoes, often with religious subjects, and sometimes by the hands of important artists. Unfortunately, not many original examples reached us, due to problems of external preservation of these artworks, and so sometimes they were painted again centuries later.
Porta Romana (formerly Porta San Pier Gattolino, from the name of the nearby church) has become an entryway to Florence that contains more than one “welcome artwork”: the first and most visible one when arriving from the south, is the contemporary sculpture that decorates the roundabout in front of the gate, by Michelangelo Pistoletto, named “Dietrofront” (“Turn around” 1981-84). This represents a woman that leaves Florence going toward the future, but at the same time coming back into the city, looking toward the past; another meaning is that her soul refuses to leave the magnificent cultural past of Florence. In the gate itself is a fresco with the “Virgin Mary and Saints” (including the patron saint of the city, St. John the Baptist), a 16th century work by Franciabigio, that probably replaced a fresco of the 14th century. After walking through the gate, immediately in front of us, the façade of a building located in the crossroad between via Romana and via dei Serragli houses another contemporary artwork: a fresco.