In the centre of a traffic island, outside the ancient Porta Romana, stands a rather curious sculpture known as Dietrofront (About-face, 1981-4), the work of the Italian artist Michelangelo Pistoletto (b. 1933).
The sculpture consists of two female figures, one balanced on the head of the other, and when it was erected in 1984 there was an immediate protest. Demonstrations were held and hundreds signed a petition demanding that Dietrofront should be moved to a less prominent place in the city. However, it was all to no avail; the city fathers decreed that the sculpture should stay where it was.
When asked to explain the meaning of his controversial creation Pistoletto said: “Dietrofront... has a clear meaning. It’s bi-directional, a figure walks one way while carrying a second figure on its head which walks the other way. From Florence during the Renaissance new ideas were born in artistic, scientific, architectural and economic areas. Everything modern starts from this point, from Florence. My sculpture leaves Florence to face the world and at the same time the second figure returns...from the world to Florence”.
A final word on the Porta Romana. The gate, which marked the start of the road to Rome, was built in 1326 and formed part of the most southerly stretch of the last set of walls to be built in Florence. Almost 700 years later, Porta Romana still boasts its original wooden doors, complete with iron locks and bolts.