Guide to Bergamo
The Bergamo Guide
So here are 5 top reasons to visit Bergamo.
1) The walled high town of Bergamo with its castle, University, cable car, cobbled streets, pedestrian area and varied restaurants offering beautiful views out over the plains of Northen Italy
2) The excellent shopping area to be found in the Bergamo low town.
3) The superb location, 10 mins from Milan Bergamo airport (Ryanair Hub) and 40 mins by train from Milan.
4) The hinterland of Bergamo that includes lakes, mountains and varied activities.
5) Bergamo’s history and culture rival that of any other Italian town (perhaps with the exception of Milan, Florence and Rome)
Strong claims to fame I know…so to give you a feeling for this ancient city, let’s journey together through the history, culture and streets of Bergamo.
Bergamo Città Alta or high town is a medieval city, surrounded by the walls erected in the 16°century during the Venetian domination and is still today one of the 4 italian cities (with Ferrara, Lucca and Grosseto) with the old town centre totally surrounded by the walls that have maintained intact their original aspect over the centuries.
Here we find the most visited part of the city of Bergamo in the Old Square (Piazza Vecchia), with the Contarini Fountain, Palazzo della Ragione (the Reason Palace), the ‘Campanone’ or bell tower, which still today at 10pm rings out to recall the past when these bells announced the nocturnal closing of the fortified doors of the city. On the other side of the Reason Palace there is the large white building of the New Palace that hosts the Angelo Mai Library (definately worth a visit). For the energetic you must climb the Torre del comune (City tower) as the views are worth the hard work.
On the south side of the Old Square there are the Cathedral, the Colleoni Chapel designed by the architect Giovanni Antonio Amadeo with the memorial monument to the leader Bartolomeo Colleoni and to his daughter Medea, there is also the Baptistery and the famous Romanesque Santa Maria Maggiore Basilica dating from the 12th centuary. This is an urban church and inside you will find the architectural marks of the different periods that came one after the other since the time of the construction. Noteworthy are the inlays realised with different colour woods representing biblical scenes, whose drawing are attributed to Lorenzo Lotto and a large baroque confessional booth sculptured by Andrea Fantoni in 1705. The famous musician Donizetti, who was born in Bergamo, was laid to rest in a tomb at the back of the church.
Via Colleoni links the Old Square to Cittadella Square and it is the commercial heart of Città Alta. In Cittadella Square you will find the civic archeological Museum and the “Enrico Caffi” Museum of natural sciences.
Moreover, Bergamo Città Alta hosts a Botanic Garden ( Colle Aperto Street) and it is the centre of the University faculty of Foreign Languages and Literature whose prestige is recognised accross Europe.
The Rocca (castle) was begun in 1331 and a large amount still remains especially of the Venetian modifications added later. I recommend a visit here as there are also beautiful views from the castle walls
It is possible to reach Bergamo Città Alta in many different ways: by the scorlazzini (stairs that link from different places the Città Alta to the Città Bassa), by car ( NOT during weekends and only as far as the perimeter), by bus or with the famous old cable car (this was constructed over 100 years ago and is a truely enjoyable experience).
Also of note is the Gaetano Donizetti Theatre, named after one of Bergamo’s most famous inhabitants. And so it goes on with many historic buildings like Palazzo Terzi, Palazzo Moroni, Casa Palma Camozzi Vertova and Villa Grismondi Finardi.
The lower city (città bassa) too has much to offer starting with Accademia Carrara in Piazza Giacomo Carrara 82. Recognized internationally as one of Italy’s most important art galleries, Accademia Carrara was founded by Count Carrara in 1796. In it’s walls reside such masterpieces as Botticelli, Raffaello, Bellini and Donatello.
Here there are also many interesting libraries like the civil library Angelo Mai and the new library Antonio Tiraboschi (planed by Mario Botta),that you can find in San Bernardino street 74.
In addition the city hosts the town stadium, where the local team Atalanta trains, as well as a sports complex and local swimming pools.
In the lower Bergamo to the north east you can also see the beautiful Morla river, that go across the city for 8 km.
And of course Bergamo lower city is the centre for shopping featuring leading brand shops and various shops offering wine and other local produce.
Don’t forget the fine dinning. Bergamo has excellent local dishes. The cuisine has naturally a Venetian influence but perhaps the best known dishes are Casoncelli della Bergamasca (Type of Ravioli), La polenta della Bergamasca, La torta del Donizetti, (desert with pineapple and apricots), and many more.
Remember, Bergamo is not large for a city (less than 120,000 inhabitants) so all the above is concentrated in a small area. So just take a walk from the low town up to Bergamo high town (using the cable car) and experience this city’s unique majesty.
And a little History
Today’s city of Bergamo is thought to be built upon the ancient town of Bergomum
Bergamo has always been very important for its military-strategic position also because of the conformation of the hills, but especially because it was the crossroads between the western side of the Padania plane and central Europe.
From the 6° century Bergamo was the centre of one of the most important longobard dukedoms with Brescia, Trento and Forum iulii: the first longobard duke was Wallari. After the longobard anarchy period and after the monarchy restauration with the election of King Autari in 584, duke Wallari left to the new king half of the Bergamo dukedom, that is the western part of the Brembo including Lemine area.
Bergamo later fell under the rule of Milan, Venice and then Austria until Giuseppe Garibaldi (the founder of modern Italy) made it part of the new Italian state
In addition to Gaetano Donizetti, the musician Alessandro Grandi was born in Bergamo and music still today is a central aspect in the life of the city.