While this gate would appear to have once served a primarily defensive purpose, the high degree of ornamentation seems to show that this gate also always served a ceremonial purpose. (One cannot rule out the possibility that the ornamentation was added later in the life of the structure; a study of old structures shows that the purposes they served have often changed in the course of time.)
Notice that the gate can still be seen hanging in the gateway - this gate could probably still have been closed at the time this photograph was taken.
The nature of the setting, including the large tree in the foreground, suggests that this gate is one of the entrances to the city. In times gone by, it was ordinary for cities to end abruptly at their walls - there was no construction of any importance outside the gates, for it was simply too dangerous to live outside the protection of the walls.
In later years, it became quite common for shanty towns to arise just outside the gates. The reasons for this were many and complex, but were usually primarily financial in nature. Buildings inside the walls were usually taxed to pay for the cost of maintaining the walls that offered protection and so in turn increased the value of the property in question. On the other hand, buildings outside the walls usually escaped the entry tolls that were often levied on goods entering the city. Since buildings outside the walls were subject to attack, they were often shanties and other crude buildings that could be abandoned without great loss. This practice continues today in the favelas of South America. These areas lie beyond the reach of the city and its regulations, and most of these communities are independent of city regulation, and also, of course, not served by the city's infrastructure. The reasons remain largely economic - the residents of these areas are too poor to pay the cost of living inside the city and enjoying the services normally provided by the city to its residents.
[See Bacon for more on exurbs/suburbs and their history.]
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