This ancient building, dating back to the 1200s and completed in the 1600s, is really rather lovely.
It houses part of the Museo Storico (about the history of Bergamo) but I did not go into the museum this time: I wasn't in a museum mood.
I just wandered the cloisters instead. The museum has an entrance fee, but the cloisters are free and really very peaceful. The second cloister also has yet another set of superb views.
There are two sets of cloisters: the Cloister of the Ark, used in the 1300s as a cemetery leading to the Cloister of the Well. Both are frescoed, although some of these are in poor condition. The frescoes in the Cloister of the Well date from the 1700s (earlier frescoes were destroyed when renovations took place in the 1700s) but there are some from as early as the 1300s in the cloister of the Ark.
There was once a third set of cloisters too, but it has been replaced with a terrace which has fantastic views to the north-east (and much birdsong).
This is another sight that I may well not have found without Giulia to guide me. Nor would I know much about it, as it doesn’t seem to get much attention on Bergamo’s tourism websites. But I’m very pleased to have discovered the Chiesa del Santissimo Salvatore, or Church of the Holy Saviour, as it holds several treasures and is also of interest for its great age. In fact, it is thought that this is the oldest church site in the city, dating back to 299 according to Giulia, although the present church is largely Baroque.
Although officially dedicated to the Holy Saviour, the church is also known as the church of “the Madonna of desperate cases”, with many pilgrims coming here to pray to the beautiful 16th century golden statue, “Our Lady of the Sacred Heart of Jesus”, the work of Louis Carrara. Another notable treasure is the painting by Giovanni Battisto Tiepolo of “San Giuseppe e il Bambino” – St Joseph and Child (photo three). Giulia pointed out how, very unusually, St. Joseph is depicted as a young man; normally he is shown as being quite elderly, so that no one might take him as the actual father of Christ.
Look up too, to see the lovely trompe l’oeil ceiling (photo five). And on the right-hand wall (as you face the altar) is this (photo four) 15th century fresco depicting the Virgin and Child with St. Pantaleon, patron saint of doctors, who has in his right hand a surgical tool and left a box of medicine.
Directions:About halfway along the Via San Salvatore, which runs parallel to and south of the Via Bartolomeo Colleoni.
Our excellent tour ended here, and I went in search of lunch with some other members of our group, settling on the trancheria that had been recommended to us.
When you have finished exploring the buildings around the Piazza Duomo you may be tempted to retrace your steps to the Piazza Vecchia, as I am sure most tourists do, but don’t. Instead, go through the entrance to the right of the Capella Corleoni, to find yourself in a small, anonymous-looking building that links the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore with the adjoining bishop’s residence and offices.
Were it not for our guide Giulia, I would never have guessed that such treasures were hidden here! It is covered with frescoes dating back to around the middle of the 15th century. Not all are in great condition, having been covered up in the past, but there is still plenty to see and admire. I especially liked this one of the Last Supper, despite the damage and the unfinished look of the table setting. I am intrigued by the depiction of one of the disciples (or so I assume – maybe it is Judas?) as smaller than the rest and sitting on the table! I also liked the Annunciation on either side of the arch that holds up the ceiling (photos two and three), with the angel Gabriel to the left of the arch and Mary facing him on the right.
As for the name of the building, which is inscribed on it in Latin as Curia Episcopalis, an “episcopal curia” is defined as “the group of persons who assist a bishop, or the prelate taking the place of a bishop, in the administration of a diocese”, and thus the name echoes the purpose of this space as being linked to the bishop’s offices next door.
Directions: The entrance is between the Cappella Colleoni and the Baptistery – or from the other side near the Temple of the Holy Cross
So let us go out through that further door, opposite the one through which we entered, to see the Temple of the Holy Cross or Santa Croce.
Behind the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore is another rather hidden gem, Il Tempietto di Santa Croce (Little Temple of the Holy Cross). This dates from around the year 1000, but was mentioned for the first time in a private document drawn up in 1133 as the "ecclesia Sancte Crucis".
In 1444 part of the building became underground as a result of some rebuilding of the bishop’s residence nearby: at the same time a stairway was constructed leading to it from the Piazza Duomo via the Aula della Curia. It underwent some restoration in the 16th and 17th centuries, with additions made each time – frescoes in the 16th century, decoration to the lantern in the 17th, but continued to be partially lost underground until the early part of the 20th century, I believe.
Il Tempietto is considered to be the finest example of Romanesque architecture in Bergamo , and possibly in the whole of Lombardy. It was built in the shape of a rounded Greek cross, a little like a four-leaf clover! The wall is of brown sandstone bricks, decorated with hanging arches which are divided by pilasters into groups of three. Above the windows (bricked-up because of the former burial underground of the structure, I presume) are fading images – see photo two.
I didn’t get the opportunity to see inside (apparently you can ask at the Tourist Office to see if it is possible to visit), but my research, sadly dependent on very limited Italian, tells me that the frescoes focus on depictions of the Cross, including the finding of the cross by St. Helena, and the Emperor Constantine bearing the cross in Rome. But even if you can’t get inside, this little structure really is worth seeking out.
Directions: On the Piazza Santa Maria Maggiore, behind the Basilica of the same name – access through the Basilica or along Via Gaetano Donizetti from the Piazza Mercato delle Scarpe and funicular station. Or see the location on Google maps.
From here we can walk along Via San Salvatore to the church of that name.
Of course you must visit Via Colleoni, and the Piazza Vechia in Bergamo Alta. But perhaps the better advice I can give you is that you wander around and you will be able to discover a lot of delicious villas, most of them almost hidden for a hurried tourist. This one in the photo is near one of the main entrances of Bergamo walls.
Desde luego que debeis visitar la Via Colleoni y la Piazza Vechia en Bergamo Alta. Pero quizas el mejor consejo que os puedo dar es que vagabundeeis un poco y podreis descubrir muchas villas deliciosas, la mayoría casi escondidas para los ojos de un turista apresurado. Esta de la foto está cerca de una de las entradas principales de la muralla de Bergamo.
The lower part of Palazzo della Ragione is open to the elements, an arched space which was once used for legal hearings.
The Palazzo is an ancient building, dating from the 1100s. Time and weather have done their work, of course, but if you look carefully at the carvings on the colum capitals you can still see scome superb early Medieval work. I especially liked the figures holding hands, although what they symbolise I do not know. None of these carvings were just for decoration...all have symbolic meanings of one sort or another.
There are one or two carvings still visible on the upper storeys of the building too. Go up the covered Medieval staircase to see them (and to get a superb view of the Cappella Colleoni and Santa Maria Maggiore).
Tower houses were all the rage in northern Italy (and elsewhere) in the late 1100s-1200s, and they fascinate me.
I'm always amazed at the skill involved in building such tall buildings with only the 'primitive' technology available at that time. They are tall enough now, but when one considers that they were once even taller (those in Bergamo had to be 'lopped' in the mid-1200s, when someone new took control).
I had thought Pavia was once 'the city of a hundred spires' but it seems Bergamo also once claimed that title.
There are three superb examples of the ancient tower house in the Piazza del Mercato Fieno (hay market), just off Via Gombito. Still in good condition, still lived-in (although I think they are now apartments rather than just one house). On one of the walls you'll find a map (in Italian) marking all the others which remain. It becomes increasingly easy to tower-house 'spot', once one has an idea of what they look like.
Take the time to wander Citta Alta and do some tower-house spotting. I think you'll be amazed at how many you find! :-)
Originally most of the land surrounding Citta Alta was farmland, with peasants working the fields and bringing their goods to market in the town using the vicoli and scaletti.
Bur eventually and inevitably Citta Alta began to expand outside its walls. One of the first areas for this expansion is Borgo Pignolo ('borgo' meaning neighbourhood), near to the Porta Sant Agostino.
Walking down (or up, if you are feeling energetic!) Via Pignolo will give you a real feel for what this are might once have been like. You'll pass the 14th-century (originally) church of Santo Spirito (there was a mass in progress when I wandered by, so I didn't get chance to explore inside) on Piazza San Sprito.
Then wander along the narrow, winding Via Pignolo which still feels as atmospheric as it might once have done. Spot the clues to the age of buildings as you go... there are many 'palazzi' of the 1600s and 1700s (mostly now apartments) but also buildings which clearly have much older foundations. Check the windows, check the entrance archways (some now blocked up), check the balconies.
If you have time, wander some of the side-streets as well. Small cafes and bars, people living their everyday ordinary lives.
Next time I visit I shall spend more time exploring this area of Citta Bassa: I think it will fully repay me for the time I spend.
Via Pignolo was the main route to Citta Alta in Medieval times, so it is hardly surprising that some of its buildings are ancient.
The church of Santo Spirito dates from the 1300s. It caught my eye immediately not only because of the huge mish-mash of building styles so very evident on its facade but also for the huge modern sculpture on its exterior. This sculpture, by Francesco Somaini and dating from 1971, represents the descent of the Holy Spirit.
The church was originally attached to a convent. In 1475 the facade was changed in the name rebuilt and enlarged in the mid-1500s. but the facade was never comp[letely finished, which is why you can still see traces of the church's previous incarnations.
I could not go inside as a mass was in progress, but the church is open on weekdays from 0800-100 and from 1500-1830. On Sundays it is open 0830-1130 and 1530-1845.
I wandered around S Catarina whilst researching potential restaurants. I wasn't expecting much of interest (although the woman at the tourist Office has told me it was 'a nice area') and so was pleasantly surprised.
I started by following the Via Della Noca, a cobbled and gently stepped 'scaletta' leading dwon from Porta Sant Agostino. From there I followed the Via Borgo Santa Catarina.
Again, it is a living neighbourhood with ordinary shops, lots of small cafes and restaurants and bars, lots of ordinary people living ordinary lives.
And, in the parts nearest to the Citta Alta, yet again evidence of the past. Perhaps not as many Medieval buildings as in Pignolo and Canale, but there were some...and there were many more of interest from the 1600s, 1700s and 1800s.
I didn't find the suitable restaurant I was seeking but I did enjoy my wanderings. It's a part of Bergamo Bassa to which I will return; I spotted some interesting small restaurants in the area! :-)
Again, I only wandered here because I was seeking suitable restaurants.
It's the furthest 'borgo' I explored from Citta Alta and, logically, thus contains fewer buildings of historical interest for me. But even so I found it fascinating.
Lots of little bars, cafes and restaurants and 'ordinary' shops. Friendly people too: I got chatting (of a sort..she had no English and my Italian is poor) with a Ukrainian lady who told me she had visited Bergamo for a year and ended up staying for 10!
I bought a cake or two, and some rolls, from a lovely bakery/pasticcheria...the owner who served me was also very friendly and pleasant.
As with Borgo Santa Catarina I really just followed the main road...Via Borgo Palazzo..rather than explore the side-streets.
Borgo Palazzo seemed to me very much like an ordinary area with ordinary people. I'd like to explore more next time, even if the historical interest is less than elsewhere in Bergamo.
You'll find this ancient structure round the back of Santa Maria Maggiore.
It dates from the first half of the 11th century, with the first written mention in 1153.
I could find out very little more about the structure. although it is clearly possible to access the interior, the gate was locked when I visited. There's an archaeological drawing on the wall nearby, showing how the chapel fits into the existing and destroyed structures surrounding it.
The interior of the building follows the plan of a Greek cross and I believe there are 16th-century frescoes inside (it underwent restoration in the 1500s).
The Rocca (a slightly raised area towards the edge of Citta Alta's hill) is where Bergamo's Roman Capitol almost certainly stood. Its defences were increased and improved during the 1300s, but the reason for visiting is really the views over Citta Bassa, Citta Alta and the surrounding countryside. They are truly wonderful.
There is a memorial park to Bergamo's dead of both Wold Wars, with numerous monuments and even the odd piece of heavy artillery (and a tank) on show. Free entry, no crowds, shady green areas and quite simply a most magical place to sit and rest for a while. Maybe take a picnice and/or a book?
A definite 'must' off-the-beaten-track.
To find it, walk down Via Gombito to P Mercato Della Scarpe (where the funicular to Citta Bassa is). Take the road to the right...Via Rocca.
They are tiny, but they are worth seeking out. Not so much for the plants, although there are plenty, some of which are very special.. by late May there was little in the way of flowers to be seen. But more for the sheer pleasure of wandering a shady green space, which also happens to have the most fantastic views over the surrounding countryside.
The botanical gardens opened in 1972 and are dedicated to Lorenzo Rota (1855-1918), the first person to study and describe the local flora. There are lots of alpine species, woodland plants, little ponds and a small area with benches where one can sit awhile in peace, enjoying the birdsong and the superb views.
At the start of the steps which lead to the gardens (disable access is simply not possible, I'm afraid) there is a strange structure..a powderhouse (or magazine) ...the Crotta, dating from the 1400s and with an odd pyramid-shaped stone roof, itself covered with plants. It's used as an exhibition space/conference room so access is extremely limited.
To find the Botanical Gardens walk up Via Vittorio Emmanuelle from Largo Colle Aperto (where bus 1A stops). The steps are on your right...look out for the powderhouse.
Entry is free. Opening hours:
March 9:00 to 12:00 and 14.00 - 17.00
9.00 - 12.00 and 14:00 to 18:00
Saturday, Sunday and holidays 9:00 to 19:00
9:00 to 12:00 and 14.00 - 17.00
In any ancient settlement wandering the backstreets is likely to show you more clues to the past than the most popular routes. Bergamo is no exception.
Take some time to just explore the outlying streets of Citta Alta. As well as tower-house-spotting you will find past frescoes and sgraffito, now almost worn away and many very old buildings. I'm especially intrigued by buildings which are undergoing restoration or renovation where one can see evidence of the changes which have been made over preceding centuries.
There is a whole row of such buildings in a narrow alleyway just behind the Tempietto di Santa Croce (I could find no name for the alleyway). The external plasterwork had been removed, exposing existing windows inside blocked-up windows inside blocked-up windows, doorways inside blocked-up doorways inside Medieval stone archways....even a chimney (a Medieval bakery, perhaps?) now starting halfway up the building.
So take the time explore a little more and a little more widely. I think you will be fascinated by what you find. Evidence of the past is all around Citta Alta.