Città Alta, Bergamo
It was on our last afternoon in Bergamo that we visited the Parco delle Remembranze, and I am so glad we made time for it, as it afforded some of the best views in the city. As the name suggests, this is a park of remembrance for those killed in war, and as well as memorials it contains some old cannons and even a tank. A tree was planted here for each Bergamo soldier to die in the First World War. The park was built on the site of a Roman building, probably the Capitol, and before that an ancient Celtic settlement.
At the centre of the park, on its highest point (the hill known as Santa Eufemia) is the old fort, La Rocca Civica. This dates originally from the 14th century, when it was built by the Venetians as part of the fortification of the city and to exert their superiority over it. La Rocca kept its military function during the brief Napoleonic period, 1797-1814, and under the subsequent domination of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, 1814-1859, until the city was liberated by Garibaldi . In the latter part of the 19th century was used as a barracks and a prison. Later it was acquired by the city and restored to act as part of Bergamo’s museum of history, focusing on the period of that 19th century.
But while for some the history, the war memorials and guns etc may be the main attraction, for me these were peripheral – the views of Alta, as well as of Bassa and the surrounding plains and mountains beyond, are reason enough to come here.
OK, enough of sightseeing – let’s go shopping in Alta!
You can TAKE THE FUNICULAR TO SAN VIGILIO. From up there you will see wonderful panoramic views(pic #4) of Old Town Bergamo, Citta' Alta. Also there is the remains of the ancient stronghold, Bergamo Castle. Four partially ruined towers and a well-preserved section of the surrounding walls, still exist.
Hans and I, along with many other VT Members went up there Sunday night, as we still had lots of time before dinner. It was a great opportunity to do so as many of us still hadn't had the opportunity to visit San Vigilio.
The views during the funicular ride were simply spectacular, even tho it was a little misty.
While the others climbed up the hill to the Castillo, I explored the area around the funicular station (pic #5). There was a church there (pic #2) and also a restaurant (pic #3) which offered wonderful views.
Behind an undistinguished doorway not far from the Funicular station (so undistinguished it took me and Gillybob a couple of attempts to find it, despite the No 12, we couldn't see any sign that this was the right address) is a 'Secret Treasure' - The Palazzo Moroni.
A chance meeting during our final reccy before Eurmeet, had led to us being introduced to Guja
Ajolfi, the curator of this Palace, which is rarely opened to the public - Open Days are held a few times a year, certainly not to individuals.
Guja had agreed to open up the 17th Century Palazzo for our VT Eurmeet attendees - we decided that the Friday afternoon would be the best time, and around 40 members from all corners of the world found their way to the entrance. The doorway had been opened, revealing the entrance vestibule and a bit of the courtyard.
For information about the history of the Palace/meet etc, click on the link below.
EurMeet 2012 visit to Palazzo Moroni
When we were all assembled, we entered a room, where we handed over our entrance fee to the bemused lady - I don't think that she'd ever had so many photos taken of herself
Guja then made a short welcome and introduction to the Palace speech, before leading us up a stunning staircase, rich with frescoed walls, that had VTers in camera frenzy mode.
We had been warned that we were OK to take photo's outside, and on the stairs, but NOT in the rooms - Yes, I'm afraid that some still couldn't resist 'taking a sneaky shot'
Guja explained the history of the palace, paintings and articles in each room in great detail, and with great enthusiasm - it was clear how passionate she was about the Palazzo.
To be continued...
Mercato del Fieno, the former “Hay Market”, is one of the few open squares in the narrow old town. Unfortunately it is used as parking lot. Okay it is understandable that the inhabitants of the old town need some spot to leave their cars, nevertheless the atmosphere and quality of the square would be more pleasant without. Watch out for traffic when crossing the square.
The square is surrounded by some interesting architecture. The most remarkable buildings are the three medieval tower houses next to each other. This is what most of the city must have looked like in the middle ages. The patrician families inhabited such stone towers which served as safe refuge during their frequent fights.
Imagine this quaint small but beautiful sqare eliminated from the parked cars and and you will find yourself in the most charming square of Citta Alta. If I am the major of Bergamo would make it to be the most attractive sight for both locals and tourist. It is almost ideal place for restaurants, cafes, galleries, pastry-shops, small open-air theatres, street musicians or arlechino performers.
Piazza maintained its medieval look which is, however, badly disfigured by huge number of parked cars. Mercato del Fieno was once the site of hay market but instead of hay's fine smell nowadays we are inhalting ugly gasoline and oil smell.
The square is notable for its Tre Torri (the Three Towers) fine examples of medieval architecture. The largest of them used to be owned by Bergamo's rich and powerful Suardi family. It is adorned by pretty little balcony under a double arched mullioned window. Another sight on the square, worth of note, is the restaurant Tre Torri, which is among the best in Bergamo.
Torre Gombito is the highest construction in Cita Alta, it is 52m high but its original height was up to 64m. Around 1800 it has to be reduced in height because of security reasons.
The tower was built in the 12th sentury and had strictly military purpose up to the end of the 16th century. From the 16th sentury the tower is used for the public purpose becoming "Torre dell'hostaria Gombedo", (the tower of taphouse Gombedo).
During period of Italian Risorgimento (process for the unification of Italy), locals used it again for the military purposes, shooting from its top at "La Torre della Rocca", where Austrian tropps were situated. Austrians responded with shooting back, using heavy guns, and Torre Gombito suffered of serious damages.
The tower was reconstructed in the 19th century and becoming one of the emblems of Bergamo.%s?
Gillbob and I visited the Tourist Information (TI) Office to meet Lucia in order to arrange one of our guided walks. She mentioned the Torre Gombito and kindly offered to show us the views from the top of the Tower. The staircase had recently been renovated and brought 'upto standard' under strict supervision, due to its historical value. I was surprised to find that the entrance was through the back of the TI office.
Well, luckily, I hadn't seen the 'Requirements to be observed' prior to our assent, or I might have been daunted and chickened out - being mildly claustrophobic for starters.
The only way up/down is on foot - There is NO LIFT - For an alternative Birds Eye View, for anyone with mobility/breathing problems, the Torre Civica/Bell Tower in Piazza Vecchie has a lift.
The climb started with a fairly wide opening, but nearer the top, it became quite narrow. Views over the nearby streets and over the rooftops through narrow open windows on the way up/down, give a good excuse to stop for a breather!
It was a pleasant surprise on arriving at the top, that the March sun was so warm, with a gentle cooling breeze!
Well the panoramic view was well worth the climb! Lucia pointed out landmarks to us.
The Gombito Tower - History 'From the TI sheet'
The tower was constructed in the 12th Century, at the intersection of Via San Lorenzo, Via Mario Lupo and Via Gombito, which were where the Roman cardus and decumanus maximus streets met. Its purpose being for defense of the Upper Town.
During battling between the rival Suardi (Guelph Party) and Rivola (Ghibelline party) families in 1206, the tower caught fire.
Bartolomeo del Zoppo gained ownership of Torre Gombito in 1263.
The tower was rebuilt during the Gothic period - until 1383, the tower and adjoining house were a single unit, joined by a passageway.
From the 16th Century, the tower underwent some reconstruction to convert it into a workshop, which unfortunately lessened the structures stability.
In 1848, the tower was occupied by patriotic rebels who were against Austrian domination. The nearby fortress of Rocca contained the Austrian army, and the rebels intended to oust them from their barricade. The Austrian authorities in retaliation, destroyed the internal wooden staircase, thereby preventing an adventageous view point.
In 1887, the tower became too expensive for the owners, ( Agliardi, Arnoldi and Gout) to maintain, let alone replace the staircase, and it was donated to the Municipiality. The staircase was eventually repaired in 1892.
Further restoration/renovation was carried out in 1913, 1935, and 1997.
A major project of consolidation and restoration was planned in 1998, with the commission going to Marco Verdina (engineer) and Sandro and Tito Spini (Sculptors). The work was carried out between 1998-2002
A further diagnostic and structural study of the staircase and ceilings was conducted by Pier Paolo Rossi - an engineer, which resulted in further structural improvements to the woodwork.
The masonry was found to be 'technically perfect', and the structural features were recognised as being executed with considerable skill!
So, now that it's structure can be vouched for .....
Climbing the Tower - Info from the TI Office/ Comune Di Bergamo
The Free tour lasts 30 minutes - You need to reserve in advance through the TI Office. Each visit is limited to 6 people due to the narrow stairs, and also to ensure that at the top it isn't too crowded.
Monday & Friday - 14.30 - 16.30
Saturday, Sunday and Public Holidays 10.00 - 12.00/ 14.30 - 16.30
*Comfortable shoes are recommended - in case of rain, the steps may become slippery
*Not recommended for people with heart disease, claustrophobia, pregnant women or people with walking/breathing difficulties - I'd also add people who suffer from Vertigo!
*During the ascent/descent you must walk near to the wall, and not lean over the railings.
*Children admitted if accompanied by a responsible adult, who must be held by hand due to some of the uneven steps
* Animals not allowed
"The City Hall of Bergamo disclaims any responsibility for non-compliance with these requirements"
The TI Office opens daily
09.00 - 12.30 and 14.00-17.30
Included in the museum ticket, is access to the tower and its 360 degree view over Bergamo and beyond.
I had the views all to myself - I'd left it until late afternoon for my visit, so was lucky to capture some sunset shots over the terracotta tiled roof tops. I also captured the views on video - (Check my Bergamo Videos)
I enjoyed the views over the rooftops to the landmark buildings clustered around the centre of Citta Alta, then noticed the patterns of the roofs and tiles. In close-up, many of the tiles had miniature roof gardens of small flowers and grasses/mosses sprutting on and between them.
Don't forget your camera/video and binoculars!!
It is difficult to imagine this peaceful park, was once part of the execution ground for Bergamasque partisan prisoners whose 'crime' might have been to have been found 'owning arms' . This was during the repressive Austrian occupation of Bergamo.
Although it is not certain how many citizens werre executed here, there is a tombstone near to the steps leading to the Monastery of St Francis, inscribed with names of some of the partisans
Around the walls of the fortress and dotted around the grounds are memorials to those who've lost their lives in various campaigns through the centuries at home and abroad. There are also plaques commemorating the Bergamo branch of the Red Cross, founded in 1864, one of the first in Italy
On the wall of a square tower is a huge anchor, which is part of a memorial to sailors.(pic 4)
Also, old armoured vehicles and bomb cases from the World Wars are situated next to seating areas (pic 3)
The park is stocked with established trees, shrubs and flowers.
Worth a walk for the views over Bergamo.
During my exploration of Citta Alta, I found myself on Via Rocca, which leads from Mercato delle Scarpe (in front of the funicular station). There are a few things to spot on the walk to the fortress including the 'Houses of The Dead' on the right at the start of Via Rocco. Look for the blocked up windows next to the doors.
See my off the beaten track tip for more info
The Fortress is surrounded by a 'Memorial Park' which is a peaceful area to wander or sit and enjoy the panoramic views over Bergamo (I'll cover this in a later tip). Entrance to the park is free.
The site of Rocca, is on the hill, which was believed to have been the Roman Capitol (Campidoglio). The hill is named after Saint Euphemia (Santa Eufemia), whom Christian settlers built a church here dedicated to this Saint. Romans added an altar to Jupiter.
Apparently chariot grooves can be seen on the path leading to the fortress - I MUST look out for these at my next visit.
Rocca was constructed on the site of an original fortress, which was built in 331 by Giovanni de Bohemia (King John of Bohemia aka John of Luxemburg))
It was rebuilt and re-inforced by the Viscontis from 1332, until 1428, when the Venetians commenced their rule. They added the circular Keep in the 15th Century.
Following construction of the city walls in the 16th Century, this fortification became an arsenal, and also had the first gunpowder factory.
Under French rule, part of the fortress was to become an elegant residential abode, then under Austrian rule Rocca became a barracks, then a prison.
The prison held patriots, many arrested for 'political crimes' of owning arms, which carried the death sentance - executions being carried out in the grounds, which is now the Memorial or Remembrance Park
The fortress underwent a further programme of restoration, when it was purchased by the Municipiality of Bergamo in the late 1920's.
First it was to become the Bombardiers School (Scuoli dei Bombardieri), then a place of storeage for antique relics (which were later moved to the Archeological Museum).
Later still it became The Museum of the Risorgimento, and continues as a museum today - The Museum of History (Museo Storico)
Open Tuesday - Sunday 09.30 - 13.00 and 1400 -17.30
Admission 5 Euros, though for 7 Euros, you can purchase a ticket that covers Rocca, Torre Civica (The Bell Tower), The Convent of St Francis and the Donizetti Museum. During my visit in 2008, this ticket also covered Torre de Cadutti.
These don't all have to be seen on the same day.
During my first visit to Bergamo in October 2008, while visiting the Torre Civica, for 5 euros I purchased a ticket that allowed me to visit this tower, as well as The Rocca and its Museo Storico, Convento di San Francesco, Torre de Cadutti and Museo Donnizettione You don't need to do this on the same day.
Checking the website of bergamoestoria this ticket now costs 7 Euros. Entrance to each individual site is 5 Euros, so this is excellent value.
Open Tuesday - Sunday 09.30 - 13.00 and 1400 -17.30
I quite enjoyed wandering around this museum, looking at the displays of exhibits throughout the 19th Century when Bergamo was under Venetian and Austrian rule.
Some of the hi-lights for me were the satirical cartoons, Giuseppe Garibaldis slippers and other personal effects (main photo) Also the huge keys to the gates of Bergamo during Austrian rule (pic 5)
Any information about the exhibits was in Italian.
My visit was towards the end of the afternoon, so I had to rush a bit, in order to see everything in the museum and then catch the 360 degree views from the top of the round tower (which in itself was well worth this visit)
For More info about Museo Storico
This website is in Italian.
During the 16th Century, the walled fortifications of Citta Alta were constructed. Four gates were built into the walls, each linking with the main roads leading in/out of the city.
The South gate - San Giacomo Gate (which linked Citta Alta with Milan) is probably my favourite, mainly for its viewing platform, with its panoramic views over Citta Bassa, to the airport and beyond. Even if it's not a clear day, there is plenty to see. At our last visit in December, there was an atmospheric haze as the sun dropped, and the lights of the town sprawling below illuminated the streets and buildings.
From Citta Bassa at night, looking up to San Giacomo, the Italian Flag was depicted in coloured lights on its walls. (2nd July 2011, being the 65th anniversary of Italy becoming a Republic - The 2nd June, being an annual Public Holiday in Italy - though it doesn't appear to affect Lombardy and the Veneto regions too much)!
Sant' Allesandro Gate, North West (near San Vigilio funicular station) headed to the road to Lecco and Como. It is within the outer wall of Colle Aporta, which is near the terminus of the #1 Atb bus service.
Sant Agostino Gate was the Eastern entrance/exit for traders etc travelling from and to Brescia and Venice. I like this gate with its Venetian lion watching over the traffic streaming through its arch ways.
It is linked to Citta Bassa by the nearby medieval scaletta (stepped pathway/staircase) Via Noca. There is a nice park and also views over the walls to the valley and mountains.
This gate was named after the former Convent of Saint Agostino, which is sited nearby
San Lorenzo Gate North of Citta Alta, was inaugurated in 1593, and led to/from the new road to the Brembano Valley and Valtellina.
It's possible to walk around most of the route of the old city walls, which extend for around 6km and view these gates.
This is an elegant octagonal building dating from 1340. It is usually only opened during baptisms, but apparently visits can be made by appointment.
This used to be part of the interior of Basillica St. Maria Maggiore, but it was removed, during the 17th Century, as Baptisms were being conducted in the Duomo instead.
After some time in storage it was eventually reconstructed outside the Aula della Curia - The Bishops Court.
The Baptistery consists of 2 parts - Its stone blocked base is quite plain in design, (apart from its arched doorway) but its upper part has a small columned loggia, formed from red Verona marble. (pic 5) At each angle is a statue of an apostle.
The roof is topped with a statue of an angel (pic 4), with 8 Saints below it.
At my first visit, the doors had just been opened, but the outer gates remained locked. So I could enjoy a bit of a peep. At my next, it was locked up, At my visit in May 2011, A baptism had just taken part, so I eventually got the chance to look inside.
The baptisimal font dominates the small room. Behind it was a marble altar, with candy twist legs, and above this a statue, set in a small alcove (that I'm guessing is of John the Baptist, but I could be wrong) below a bas relief of a scene of the crucifixion. (pic 3)
The inner walls have alternating rows of grey and red marble, with decorative columns leading to the attractive domed ceiling..(pic 2)
I could find no information about this room. I'm not even sure that is the correct name; it is simply what is inscribed in stone over the main doorway. I don't know when it was built or its purpose over the centuries, nor when it is open to the public. But it has a most wonderfully-frescoed interior and is well worth a visit if it is accessible when you are in Citta Alta.
To find it, walk to the right of the Cappella Colleoni and then go up the steps. You can also access it from the Tempietta di Santa Croce, at the back of SM Maggiores, if that site is open.
Inside you'll find a large room with a huge variety of frescoes in differing states of preservation. From their styles I'd guess that some are clearly from the 1400 and 1500s, some much later. I especially like the huge bird in the photo, and the rather primitive Last Supper, and the way partially-removed 'newer' frescoes overlay much much older ones.
Well worth seeking out.
Take the funicular up to the castle and San Vigilio area of Citta Alta, and enjoy yet more stunning views!
There's been a fort on this little hill (a superb position for both defence and for observing the surrounding countryside) since at least the 600s but the structure which now stands originally dates from the 1100s, substantially enlarged and strengthened in both the 1300s and the 1500s. At least two underground secret passages were constructed during the later improvements, one of which can apparently still be accessed by appointment with the local caving group Le Nottole. http://www.nottole.it/
There is not a huge amount left to see above ground, to be honest, but what there is is very impressive. The very top of the castle site, as well as having superb views in almost all directions, is a shady spot in which to sit awhile listening to birdsong. And there's a neat little park laid out just outside the walls, ideal for a picnic.
Access is free and there are public toilets available.
Turn right when you get out of the funicular and walk up the (not steep) hill to the castle site.
The tiny settlement of San Vigilio itself looked as if it would repay a good wander (and I believe there are pleasant walks into the surrounding countryside) but I didn't have time on this visit.