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Bergamo's Piazza Vecchia


Bergamo shrouded in fog


Bergamo Street Scene


View from a terrace in Bergamo


Pizza in Bergamo

Welcome to Bergamo
from Jesse's Journeys in Italy

Population: 117,887 (2004)
Official site:
Bergamo
Wikipedia:
Bergamo
Map:
MapQuest

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Undoubtedly one of Italy's most beautiful and well-endowed cities, Bergamo is divided into a lower, modern city (Bergamo Basso) and its ancient, historical heart (Bergamo Alta) which sits high above the Lombardy plain at over 500 meters, at the confluence of the Brembo and Serio rivers, two tributaries of the Adda river.

Bergamo Basso has developed largely in the 20th century and features a number of overwrought neo-classical buildings on its over-planned streets, and perhaps few too public buildings that of the 1930s and 40s that manifest the muscular grandiosity of Italian fascism.  Still, even the lower city, with its public gardens and tree-lined avenues, has its attractions.

Bergamo Alta, although connected by a network of winding streets, is best accessed by funicular - an inclined railway because the streets are mind-bogglingly complicated, parking is very limited in the centro storico - the historical  center, and all traffic is curtailed on Sundays.

The history of Bergamo follows that of the region generally. It was probably settled by the Celts during the Bronze Age, and later by the Gauls. But, by the 6th century BC, Bergamo was under the domination of the Etruscans up until the 3rd Century BC when it was conquered by the Romans, eventually in 49 BC, under Julius Caeser, becoming a Roman municipium, known as Bergomum, a city whose people enjoyed the rights and privileges of Roman citizenship.  During the long  decline of the Roman Empire, in the 5th century AD, the city was destroyed by Attila, king of the Huns. Later, during the 9th century, it fell under the sword of the Longobards - or Lombards.

For a time (between 1264 and 1428), the City was under the control of the Lords of Milano, after which, by conquest again, it was incorporated into the Venetian Republic whose control lasted until 1797 - when the region was conquered by Napoleon and the city folded into the Cisalpine Republic. The city, thereafter, was mostly under the Austrians, but Austrian rule was ended when the Austrians were pushed out during the Risorgimento, and northern Italy became part of the modern state of Italy.

The Etruscans, Romans and Longobards and Milanese had each constructed walls and fortifications, but it was the Venetians who, partly using what was there already, were  largely responsible for the fabulous ring of walls which encircle Bergamo Alta today.

Inside the walls, which run about 5 km - the centro storico still reflects the Roman town plan - two main streets (via Gombito and via Colleoni), with gates at each end, run from north to south and east to west intersecting at right angles.  The Gombito Tower, built in medieval times, stands at this crossroads today.  The principal gate today is the Porta Sant'Agosta.

Visiting Bergamo, travelers will find the streets and piazzas eminently seductive...wandering the entire precinct within the walls a treat in itself.  Naturally, there are many buildings and  monuments of note along the way and, of course, there is an abundance of shops, some very high end, some devoted to pushing souvenirs, and the usually plethora of cafes, trattorias and restaurants, where one can rest one's legs and take a little nourishment. 

Piazza Vecchia is the main public square.  Facing into this piazza is the Palazzo della Ragione (12th Century, rebuilt in the 16th), seat of the medieval comunal governments and today an exhibition hall whose atrium boasts an 18th century sundial. The St. Mark's lion over the mullioned windows reflects a strong Venetian influence.  There are many palazzi and public buildings in Bergamo Alta - adding immensely to its charm and appeal - that similarly reflect the Venetian style.

The most impressive church, the local Duomo or cathedral, accessible through the portico on Piazza Vecchia, is the more or less Romanesque Basilicata di Santa Maria Maggiore, built in 1137 non the foundations of an earlier 7th century church which itself had been built on the foundations of a Roman temple.  The main church features an octagonal dome.

The campanile - bell tower - was added between 1436 and 1459.  The interior, which was remodelled during the late Renaissance period, has a fresco, painted in 1347, by Giotto in its transept and frescoes by Tiepolo in its dome.  The tomb of Gaetano Donizetti, a native son, lies within.

Next to the Basilica is the Capella Colleoni, essentially a tomb commissioned by the mercenary Bartolomeo Colleoni, whose architecture and decoration are magnificent examples of the high Renaissance style.  Colleoni is pictured sitting on a golden horse.

The Venetian artist-arcthitect Lorenzo Lotto worked in Bergamo for about 12 years.  Several churches in the city display his work, most particularly the Chiesa di San Michele al Pozzo Bianca which has a work on the life of Mary from 1525.

Two of the city's best museums are also found within the walls: the Museo Civico Archeologico (Archaeological Civic Museum) and the Museo di scienze naturali Caffi (Caffi Natural Science Museum).

Bergamo Bassa

It is more likely than not that travelers who want to stay a night or two in Bergamo will find accommodation in the lower city.  It is a much different "built" environment than its higher counterpart - indeed it is several "worlds" away.

But there is much to do and see in Bergamo Bassa.  It is, for instance, the home of the Pinacoteca  dell'Accademia Carrara, founded in 1796, known more simply as the Accademia Carrara and the nearby GAMEC - the Galleria d'Arte Moderna e Contemporanea (Gallery of Modern and Contemporary art) which will wrench your head out of things ancient and plant you firmly in the now, or perhaps even the future.  The Accademia Carrara has a large collection (18,000 pieces), not all good, but some spectacular works by Raphael, Bellini, Donatello, Rubens and Clouet.

Look for the Porta Nuova which stands at the entrance to the Sentierone, a capacious garden surrounded by 19th century arcades and loomed over by one of the aforesaid fascist buildings, the Palazzo di Giustizia (Palace of Justice).

The high streets are lined with shops, some very fashionable, and offices - because Bergamo is, after all a modern, commercial and light industrial center of some import in the Italian economy.

By Vian Andrews, November 20th, 2006

Lombardia Region

4542′N 940′E

Distances

Milan - 59 km;
Lecco - 34 km;
Como - 94 km;
Bellagio - 99 km;
Brescia - 56 km;
Cremona - 100 km;
Piacenza - 112 km;
Venice - 227 km

Directory
Bergamo hotels and other places to stay
Click here
 
Bergamo is on VisitsItaly driving tour of the Lake District
More info
 

The Funicular
Operates 7 days a week on a regular and frequent schedule from the station at the end of Via Vittorio Emanuele II.

 
Tourist Offices
1) Bergamo Bassa: Via Vittorio Emanuele 11, 20.  Tel: 035-210-204

2) Bergamo Alta: Vicolo Aquila Nera 2 (near Piazza Vecchia). Tel: 035-232-730

 

Coat of Arms of Bergamo

Pisogne on nearby Lake Iseo
Accademia Carrara Pinacoteca d'Arte Antica
Piazza Giacomo Carrara 82/A
Tel: 035 399640
Fax: 035 224510
Galleria d'Arte Moderna e Contemporanea
Via s.Tomaso 53
Tel: 035 399527/8/9
Fax: 035 236962
Museo Bernareggi
Via Pignolo 76
Tel: 39 035 248772
Fax: 035 215517

Youth Hostel - just outside the town, but close enough and priced right for students

 

In 2006, Bergamo Alta was submitted for consideration as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  A decision will be rendered soon.

 

Bergamo has a long and proud musical heritage.  Famous  musicians born in Bergamo include Gaetano Donizetti, Pietro Locatelli, and Antonio Lolli.

The very progressive composer Alessandro Grandi who studied under.  Monteverdi, worked in Bergamo as Capella Maestro until his death, by plague, in 1630.  His post was taken over by the even more progressive  Tarquinio Merula.

 

The Donizetti Theatre, in Bergamo Bassa, named in  honour of the great musician-comoser,  co-hosts "The International Piano Festival of Brescia and Bergmo" which takes place in April ever year. The  Teatro Grance in Brescia is the other co host.

 

Born in Russia, the world famous juggler, Enrico Rastelli, lived and died (1931) in Bergamo.  In his mausoleum there is a life-sized statue of the artist.