Radio Number One is the local Bergamo radio station. 104 MHz on your dial or listen to their Internet Stream. Their offices are at Via Camozzi 9 - 24121 Bergamo.
Polenta is Ground Maize and has always been reagrded as a peasant food, like gruel and porridge, but Bergamo's signature delicacy - the Polenta e Osei - is not made from polenta at all. In actual fact it's made to look like a plate of polenta with birds (osei) pecking away at it.
It's a very tasty sweet cake. Maybe a bit too rich for some palates but I loved it. Ingredients include icing sugar, marzipan and cream.
There are plenty of shops selling them in different sizes but you can pick a small one up for under €3 (Sept 2012).
Cafes sell traditional polenta dishes, such as with cheese, which are an altogether different thing. Just make sure you know which is which. You'll know as soon as you taste it.
The local wine of Bergamo is the Valcalepio. The "rosso" with Cabernet and Merlot, the "bianco" Pinot Bianco, Pinot Grigio & Chardonnay" and the muscato passito represent the three D.O.C.'s. The first Roman legionaires were awarded plots of land to for vineyards 2,000 years ago.
As with pretty much anywhere else in Italy the locals here in Bergamo enjoy their evening stroll and the Citta Alta main streets of Gombito and Colleoni are ideally suited for the passtime. From early evening until late people ascend to the upper city on the funicular, have their stroll, maybe drop into a bar or cafe and then head back down - all very civilised!!
Wherever you are in Bergamo, upper or lower, at 10 pm every night you'll hear bells being rung for about 10 minutes. This is a tradition dating back to Venetian rule when the upper city became walled and the bells were rung to inform those working in the fields that the gates were about to be closed for the night.
The main bell is the one in the Campanone (which simply translates as "Large Bell Tower") and our guide informed us that the total number of rings is 180 (if memory serves me correctly). On feast days and other important occasions the bells from the cathedral and other churches join the Campanone which I reckon would be pretty impressive given that the everyday ringing is remarkable enough.
Here's my video of the peals on our last night in Bergamo - from the courtyard at Il Sole restaurant - Bergamo Bells
As you wander the streets of both upper and lower Bergamo you'll notice various bas-relief sculptures of this lion on many of the buildings. This is the Lion of St Mark, the symbol of the Venetian empire. The winged lion is almost always portrayed holding a book, and sometimes a sword. Conjecture has it that when the book is open that meant the state was at peace and when closed, at war. However there is no definitive guide to explaining the various symbolisms of the lion's manifestations and consensus has it that the book and sword represent the Venetian's self-view of justice and order.
Bergamo's Citta Alta had been a walled city since Roman times and when the Venetians took control in 1428 much of these walls remained but were in poor condition.
It wasn't until 1556 that the Senate of the Republic of Venice decided to commit the resources to a complete rebuilding of these walls in order to consolidate Bergamo's position as the Venetian empire's most western landward outpost. The walls' bastions were finally completed in 1588 at which time they comprised the present-day masonry structures topped with earthen embankments (the latter being more suitable for the absorption of artillery strikes). During the construction stone from the original Roman walls was used and over two hundred and fifty buildings, including houses, churches and even the Roman sewerage system, were demolished to provide further building material.
The walls never did get tested by military action during Venetian reign and were demilitarised following the 1861 establishment of the Kingdom of Italy.
The present day structure, without the earthen ramparts, has been cleaned and restored during the 1970's and 80's as part of the city's development as a tourist destination.
As one of the Venetian's largest land-based fortresses the walls are a major attraction and are completely circumnavigable on foot with great views across the surrounding countryside and over the Citta Bassa. They are especially atmospheric at night when they are subtly lit and a walk down from the upper city to the lower is like going back in time - you can imagine yourself in the sleeping Venetian Citadel with only the night guards for company.
As with the main tourist office I didn't actually have cause to use this one but we did get two of their guides to show us around the upper city and excellent they were too - knowledgeable and passionate. So extrapolating from that I'll assume that pretty much anything you need from this tourist office will be more than happily dispensed - be it accommodation assistance, public transport information, things to do & etc. etc....
The office is located at the base of the Gombito Tower which is about as central as you can get - just go straight forward from the funicular.
On our guided tour of the Citta Alta we noticed these red hands daubed all over the place. Upon enquiring of our guide, the gorgeous and passionate Giulia, she informed us that these were daubed to promote a local play and that they were sortof considered artistic and so not cleaned up.
Interesting to research and see what conjectures others have made about them - try it yourself LOL.
There is no doubt that Bergamo was an important Roman garrison town from whenever BC until the 5th century AD when the Huns invaded. However most of the Roman settlement has been destroyed and built over and very little archaeological evidence remains. The Archaeological Museum staff have done some excavation work which indicates that there was a sophisticated infrastructure including a forum, underground heating, baths and all the other touches of civilization expected from the Romans but because the evidence is so patchy they haven't reached consensus on exactly how extensive the town would have been.
One thing that is certain though is that the crossroads of the two military roads which contributed to Bergamo's Roman existence were in the same place as the crossroads in front of the Gombito tower (the word Gombito being a derivation from "Compitum" (intersection)).
As with many Italian towns and cities the wealthy families of Bergamo lived in towers in the 12th and 13th centuries. Because of the rivalries and feuding between the families prevalent at the time the towers, which could be as high as 60 metres, were essentially fortresses and the only entranceway was on the first or second floor and accessible only by ladder.
The 12th century archbishop, poet and historian Mose del Brolo commented to the effect that Bergamo must be an relatively peaceful city as it only has 40 towers.
Many of the towers were unstable and would have collapsed over time and the few still standing have been severly truncated. Of these the best known, and still retaining much of its original appearance, is the Gombito Tower on the ground floor of which is the Citta Alta Tourist Office.
Others which have been extensively modified, as well as truncated, include the three towers on the Piazza Mercado del Fieno where you can see where the first floor doorway was and the Hotel Agnello d'Oro on via Gombito, just down from the tourist office.
As befits a city which became a major industrial and commercial centre during the 19th and 20th centuries there are plenty of banks dotted around the centre. These are housed in some rather splendid period buildings which architectuarily are well worth noting.
If you Google "Bergamo Banks" the first page comes up with a list of ten but I noted that that list doesn't include the "Banca Popolare di Bari" and so I presume there are others that the Google list has missed.
Definitely the most impressive of the edifices is that of the "Banca Popolare di Bergamo" with its imposing frontage and clock tower which occupies almost a whole block on the main viale Roma.
So there are no problems finding an ATM!!
I didn't actually have cause to use it but the main tourist office here is located just across the road from the railway station, at the bottom end of Viale Papa Giovanni. This looks like a particualarly useful resource with loads of freebie leaflets and maps as well as guidebooks etc for sale. Multi-lingual staff are available to advise on things like public transport and accommodation as well as things to do and local events. Just outside is a simple map of the city to help you get your bearings - in my case which way up I was.
Website below also has loads of useful and up-to-date information:
Up in the old town are several places where you can find just the right combination of sugar, chocolate or roll to let you know all your senses are still alive. And after walking up and around the Old Town you must enjoy something or they will arrest you.
Bergamo Alta is full of little pasticcerie, panetterie, cioccolaterie and whatever they may be called, those shops full of goodies. Sweet teeth will surely be happy there. Pastries, biscuits and sweets are available in abundance and in many many varieties, impossible to list them all.
A very “bergamasco” pastry is Polenta e ösei . Originally this means a warm dish of polenta and roasted small birds like larks and thrushes (gah!!), but pastry makers in Bergamo have invented a sweet and ethically all right version: a cake from bisquit dough wih a hazelnut cream, maraschino liqueur and almond paste; and little chocolate birds as decoration on top (photo 3).
Walking through Bergamo requires some self-discipline or you’ll put on weight already from window shopping… This is definitely no place to visit when you’re on a diet.