Città Alta, Bergamo
The Porta Sant’ Agostino city gate is the Southern gate to Città Alta for all motorized traffic. Although the center gate is just a single lane, all traffic (including the buses and trucks) have to pass this gate and making a sharp turn to get at the road along the outer walls.
Porta Sant’ Agostino was designed by Paolo Berlendis. Construction started in 1575 during a huge project to improve the fortifications of the Città Alta
We were lucky enough to be able to visit the Palazzo Moroni during the Euromeet 2012.
The palace was built around 1600 by the Moroni family, a well respected family of architects and more. A grand staircase made by by Lorenzo Redi leads to the first floor with impressive living-, dining and bed rooms. You will see Paintings by Giovanni Giacomo Barbelli and more art work by artists like Giovan Battista Moroni, Bernardino Luini, Fra’ Galgarioa and Evaristo Baschenis. The ceiling paintings are overwhelming.
The grounds contain a tower built in the 14th century and garden terraces on different levels.
Città Alta is the oldest part of Bergamo. It's a fortified part of town up the mountain with many towers.
Points of interest in Città Alta:
-The City Walls
-Porta San Giacomo
-Torre Civica in Città Alta
-Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore
-Cattedrale di Bergamo
-Theatre of Society
-Torre di Adalberto
-Civic Archaeological Museum
-Enrico Caffi Civic Museum of Natural Sciences
-Former Monastery of San Francesco
-Museo di Palazzo Moroni
-San Vigilio Funicolar
-Città Alta - Città Bassa Funicular
The Natural Science Museum was founded in 1917 by Enrico Caffi. The collections have come from the Regal Technical Institute and private donations. They include geological, botanic, zoological and ethnographic artefacts. One room is devoted to a giant Mammoth and another to the group of the Arthropods: arachnids, myriapods, crustaceans and insects.
Tu-Fr: 9AM - 0.30PM; 2.30PM - 5.30PM (6PM in Summer)
Sa-Su: 9AM - 0.30PM; 2.30PM - 5.30PM (9AM - 7PM in Summer)
The Bergamo Archaeological Museum is an interesting place to visit. The artefacts on display are very very old and tell the early history of the area.
Tu-Fr: 9AM - 0:30PM; 2:30PM - 5:30PM (6PM in Summer)
Sa-Su: 9AM - 0:30PM; 2:30PM - 5:30PM (9AM - 7PM in Summer)
The Viale delle Mura is the street at 3 sides around Città Alta, From the top of the city wall you have great lookoffs onto the surroundings. At parts there are small parks and benches and in between some of the old city gates.
The Porta San Giacomo is one of the city gates of Città Alta.
The construction dates from the 15th century and the street leading to it (Via Sant' Alessandro) from the Città Bassa is a great construction as well.
The Torre di Adalberto is situated in the NW part of Città Alta, directly after the Piazza Cittadella, when you enter the upper town from Largo Colle Aperto, where buses from the Città Bassa (lower town) arrive and depart.
The tower was built by the Crotta family in the 12th century but was later named Torre di Adalberto by local people in memory of the Count and Bishop Adalberto, who governed Bergamo in medieval times.
The Convento di San Francesco is a former cloister with the remains of frescoes dating from the 15th till 18th centuries.
A part of the building is occopied by the History museum
Museum entrance fee: Euro 3.00 (Adult)
Tu-Fr: 9:30AM - 1PM; 2:30PM - 6PM
Sa-Su: 9:30AM - 7PM
On our first morning in Bergamo, Sue had arranged for us to have a free guided walk in Città Alta. Such tours are available to the general public, though they normally cost €10 (see website for details). If the public tours are even half as good as ours was (and I expect they would be, as the same guides do both) then they would make a great introduction to the sights and history of Alta for any visitor. If you’d like to do one, book at the tourist office on Via Gombito or just meet at the Piazza Mercato delle Scarpe (by the upper Funicular Station) at the times given on the website.
Or guide, Giulia, was very apologetic about her English (she normally guides in German) but need not have been. It was excellent, as was her knowledge of and enthusiasm for the city of Bergamo. I learned so much on this tour that stood me in good stead for later explorations on my own, and she took us to at least a couple of spots that I doubt I would even have discovered. We started in the Piazza Luigi Angelini, took in the Gombito Tower and other tower houses, then headed for the Piazza Vecchia and surrounding buildings. Giulia was particularly full of information about the beautiful Santa Maria Maggiore and the Colleoni Chapel. From here we went through back streets to the church of San Salvatore, where our tour ended. It had been a long and informative morning, and thanks to Giulia, and to Sue, we had had a wonderful introduction to Bergamo’s Città Alta.
My next few tips describe the main sights we saw on this walk, starting with the Gombito Tower and other tower houses – a classic sight of Bergamo.
I have a suspicion that some of the many day trippers that ascend the funicular each morning to “do” the Città Alta must totally miss this charming piazza, though it lies just behind the Torre Gombito. Green and quiet, a haven from the bustle on the main street, it also holds a fascinating piece of the city’s history. This is the 19th century Lavatoio, Bergamo’s public wash tub. Built in marble and protected with a cast iron canopy, it was designed to provide inhabitants of the Città Alta with laundering facilities to compensate them for the lack of running water in their houses. It came into use in 1891 and continued to be used well into the 1950s. This small piazza must have been a buzz of chatter and activity as the women of the Città Alta came together to gossip while they did their washing.
Look carefully and you will see the drain to prevent the water overflowing and the small channel that collected splashes from the washing. It has been restored to some extent; it is a shame though that graffiti has been allowed to spoil the white surface of the marble.
While you are in the piazza, look out for the small carving of San Vincenzo above the arched passage leading to the Piazza Vecchia. The cathedral was originally dedicated to him (before being rededicated to Sant’Allesandro) and as this passage is the location of many priests’ houses and other religious buildings it is fitting that the saint watches over the inhabitants.
So let us pass through the passage and into the stunning Piazza Vecchia – we are in for a treat!
If the Piazza Vecchia is a “stop in your tracks and stare” sort of sight, then so too is the Piazza Duomo, but for different reasons. Here it is not the scale of the piazza that astounds, for it is fairly compact, but the buildings that surround it. Approaching the stone arch from the Piazza Vecchia you already get a hint as the Capella Colleoni can be glimpsed beyond it. And once you emerge into this small piazza you find yourself surrounded by wonders, for no fewer than four marvellous buildings face on to it (and I mean “marvellous” in its original sense, that is, “full of marvels”).
The Piazza Duomo was the political, religious and commercial centre of the town in medieval times. To your left as you enter it is the Duomo or Cathedral that gives it its name. This is dedicated to the patron saint of Bergamo, Sant’Alessandro. At right angles to it stands the much rather more ornate Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore, and next to that the totally ornate Colleoni Chapel, a masterpiece of Lombardy Renaissance, which houses the tombs of Colleoni and his daughter Medea. Finally, facing the cathedral is the Baptistery, crowned with an angel who watches over the piazza. I deal with each of these buildings in separate tips.
While in the Piazza Duomo have a look under the arches beneath the Pallazo della Ragione, which backs on to it. You will see on the ground a meridian line (see photo four). The central line is marked with the dates and months throughout the year. There are two subsidiary lines either side which indicate 15 minutes before noon, and 15 minutes after noon. High up in one of the arches of the colonnade is a disk with a central hole. Towards solar noon, a spot of light shines through the hole on the pavement, and gradually moves across the meridian line. When it is on the meridian line, it is exactly solar noon. Between the two outer lines, an “analemma” is engraved in the stone. No, I didn’t know what an “analemma” is! But if you don’t either, there’s an excellent explanation on Wikipedia – you learn something new every day! If you blow up my photo you should just make out the analemma’s hourglass shape in the back part. There is also a compass (foreground) and various annotations including height above sea level, latitude and longitude.
Now let us explore some of the buildings here in more detail, starting with the Duomo, which although we didn’t go inside on the tour, I did get to visit later in the weekend.
On the Friday afternoon of the Euromeeting, Sue (suvanki) had arranged a treat for us – we were able to visit the Palazzo Moroni, which is only rarely opened to the public. The Palazzo was built for the Moroni family (specifically Francesco Moroni) between 1636 and 1666. The Moronis were one of the most distinguished of Lombardy’s noble families, making much of their fortune from the cultivation of mulberry trees for use in silk production – hence their coat of arms depicts a mulberry tree. They were also keen art connoisseurs and built up a notable collection over the centuries, much of which is displayed here in the Palazzo.
We assembled at the entrance at the appointed time and paid the entry of €7, which included our very comprehensive guided tour. We entered through a sort of sunken courtyard, due to the hill-side location, where there were a number of interesting statues including a large Neptune facing the main entrance, and a couple of more modern works.
From here we ascended a stunning staircase, through a series of rooms, many with beautifully painted ceilings and ornate decoration. These were hung with pictures from the collection and furnished with period items, but it was the rooms themselves that most attracted me, with ceilings inspired by classical myths and 19th century trompe l'oeil frescoes. I confess though that after a while, weariness took hold of me, and it was only that initial viewing of the staircase that made a huge impression on me. This was perhaps also due to the fact that this was the one part of the interior where we were allowed to take photos, and it was a fantastic subject for these!
My fatigue was relieved though when we went outside. We found ourselves on a long balcony overlooking the courtyard, and from here could walk right round and up into the Palazzo’s hidden surprise – a green oasis of a garden on the hillside above! A sloping green lawn surrounded by beautiful shrubs gives views over the landscape and parts of Bassa below, while above a path through an orchard climbs to just below the Rocca Civica in Alta.
Our visit here marked the end of our first day’s sightseeing in Bergamo. Time to relax with friends and enjoy the social side of a VT meeting!
My next tip therefore is about what became a favourite Alta bar, the Bar Flora.
If you follow Via Bartolomeo Colleoni to its western end, furthest from the Piazza Vecchia, you will find yourself in the long rectangular space of the Piazza Mascheroni. Opposite you is the Torre della Campanella, with the main part dating from the 13th century but the ornate spire added in the 19th.
Under the Venetians, during the 16th and 17th centuries, this piazza was known as Piazza Nuova, to distinguish it from the older Piazza Vecchia. It is believed to have once been the site of the city’s linen market, and old documents also reveal that it was sometimes used to stage games and entertainment. Benches in its leafy centre make a good spot to rest and maybe eat a snack or gelato, and there are a few restaurants which looked nice, though we didn’t get round to trying any of them on this visit.
From one end (to your right as you enter the piazza from Via Bartolomeo Colleoni) there are good views of Bassa and the plains beyond, but my favourite sight here was the old frescoes. These are original 16th century ones, revealed during restorations during the 1990s. When first painted, this must have been a truly beautiful square. Look out too for the old well – I’m not sure how old, however, as I’ve not been able to find any mention of this.
Let’s now walk through the Torre della Campanella to the piazza beyond, the Piazza della Cittadella.
The Torre della Campanella leads to another piazza, the Piazza della Cittadella. This is considered one of the most important squares in Bergamo’s history. The Cittadella (Citadel) was built, probably on the site of a previous Roman structure, in the middle of the 14th century by Bernabo Visconti, a member of the powerful family from Milan which ruled Bergamo for 70 years. It was designed to be part of the fortifications of the city, positioned at its opposite end to the Rocca Civica on the hill of Sant'Eufemia. The Visconti family also wanted to assert their sovereignty over the conquered city by building such an imposing structure.
Today the citadel houses a couple of museums, neither of which we got round to visiting – the Museo Archeologico (Archaeological Museum), which houses prehistoric, Roman and early Christian finds, and the Enrico Caffi Museo, the museum of Natural Sciences, which has among its exhibits the skeleton of a giant mammoth and the fossil of an ancient flying reptile. On its opposite side are the headquarters of the Carabinieri officers who guard the Città Alta. Under the porticos a market is sometimes held – we saw some good craft stalls here on the Sunday afternoon.
My main photo shows a recently rediscovered and restored 15th century painting of the winged lion of St Mark, the emblem of Venice.
A diagonal path leads across the piazza from the Torre della Campanella to another arch, and out on to the Largo Colle Aporto.
I had previous spotted a couple of cafés here, so we headed off there in search of coffee and found La Marianna.