Italian culture and history: Bergamo
- WTI Magazine #108 Oct 20, 2018
An upper part and a lower part: this is the main feature that makes this Lombard city which lies at the foot of the Orobie Alps and overlooks the Val Brembana instantly recognisable.
Bergamo, Bèrghem as they call it in the local dialect, is in fact divided into two parts: Upper Bergamo that includes the most ancient, medieval settlement, and Lower Bergamo, the modern area, which extends in the plain below and shows a heavily industrialised landscape. Located less than an hour away from Milan, and home to one of the minor Lombardy airports, Bergamo is an easily accessible destination and an important stop-over for anyone who wishes to make a tour of Lombardy including its natural and historical-artistic treasures.
A jewel surrounded by walls
You reach the high historical centre from below, along steep slopes that lead up to the medieval streets, where you can lose yourself among the well-finished shops with their typical products. As you approach there are two things that strike out at you: the skyline, consisting of soaring towers and steeples, and the walls that surround it; Veneto walls, built in the sixteenth century during Venetian rule, added to the previous medieval fortifications of which there are still traces and which have allowed the city to maintain its original appearance, as has happened to other locations surrounded by walls such as Lucca or Ferrara, for example.
Inside the ramparts, we find the Piazza Vecchia which houses the Palazzo della Ragione, the ancient seat of the Municipality with the Venetian Lion on its facade, connected to the adjoining Domus Suardorum, and Palazzo Nuovo, now the City Library with its marble facade. At the centre of the space we find Fontana Contarini and on the corner the town tower "Campanone" (Big Bell). Not far away we find another noteworthy square: Piazza del Duomo with the Baptistery, the Colleoni Chapel, the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore and the Duomo.
A trip from up above
An interesting and impressive way to discover this little artistic-historical Lombard gem is to use the funicular. There are two possible routes: the first connects the Lower Town to the Upper Town and leads, among characteristic views, to the Piazza Mercato delle Scarpe (Shoe Market Square), another starting point for entering the ancient city; the second reaches Colle San Virgilio, located about 500 metres high, and considered a strategic gateway to the city.
Just a stone's throw from the upper funicular station, we meet Torre del Gombito, at the intersection of the road with the same name and Via Lupo-San Lorenzo, two of the most important arteries of the upper part.
The tower, which belonged to the powerful Ghibelline Del Zoppo family, controlled all access from the valleys. From here you can then return to Piazza Vecchia, the starting point of our tour.
A trip to Bergamo cannot overlook a stop in its typical restaurants, where polenta accompanied by cold cuts and cheeses from Bergamo may be found everywhere.
Finally, do not miss a visit to the Villaggio Crespi d'Adda, in the province; an outing to the only example of industrial archaeology recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.