Città Bassa or the lower town is probably the first part of the town of Bergamo that you will encounter. The train station is the main port to town. The nicest thing about Città Bassa is that it's rather on one level. Spending a day here is a good preparation for a Città Alta visit.
Points of interest in Città Bassa:
-Train station (Stazione FFSS)
-St. Mary Immaculate of Grace church
-Porta Nuova (and ATB Point)
-Torre dei Caduti di Bergamo
-Santa Lucia Church
-Palazzo della Provincia
-Chiesa San Bartolomeo
-Chiesa Santo Spirito
-Città Bassa - Città Alta Funicular
The Dominican convent at Bergamo probably is the second-oldest of Italy. The S. Stephen church in the upper city was the base for the Dominicans from 1226. That based lasted till 1561, after which date the Dominicans moved to the lower city to an exciting monastery, where they build a new church that opened 1623 and fully completed 20 years later.
Mo-Fr: 7:30AM - Noon; 3:30PM - 7:15PM
Sa: 7:30AM - Noon; 3:30PM - 8PM
Su: 7:30AM - 0.20PM; 3:30 - 10PM
The Torre dei Caduti di Bergamo or the Bell tower of the lower city was consructed from 1922 to 1924. Translated the tower is called Tower of the Fallen as its a memorial to the fallen soldiers of World War I.
Most of my rather limited time in the Città Bassa was spent in and around the Porta Nuova area – unsurprisingly perhaps, as this is the hub of Bassa. This wide gateway was made in the medieval walls in the middle of the 19th century, flanked by il Propilei (the Propylaea), two buildings that look like temples. The columned atrium at the front of each of these served as a customs and excise checkpoint until the beginning of the 20th century. However, the old walls were later demolished (to provide better access to the Sant’Alessandro fair held in August each year) and the “gate” now stands alone as an entrance through a non-existent barrier! The right-hand building (as you approach from the station, looking towards Alta) is now an information office for the local transport company, ATB.
Near here are a number of interesting statues and monuments.
In the immediate vicinity of the “temples” of Porta Nuova are a number of interesting sculptures and monuments. A short distance beyond the left-hand temple is this 1977 “Monument to the Partisan” by local sculptor Giacomo Manzù.
Two older (I assume) statues stand on either side of the main road – on the left Francesco Cucchi and on the right Francesco Nullo. Yes, I had to look up the names to find out what they did to earn these prominent positions in the cityscape! Cucchi was an Italian patriot and politician, born in Bergamo in 1834, and Nullo was also an Italian patriot, and a military officer and merchant, a close friend and confidant of Giuseppe Garibaldi. He was born in Bergamo in 1826 and was involved in the struggle for Italian independence against the Austrians. He also fought in the 1863 Polish Uprising, and is still remembered in that country as a national hero – according to Wikipedia, nine streets and three schools in Poland bear his name.
Do take time to wander around this area, and perhaps to relax on the benches in the small gardens here – it’s a great people-watching spot.
Then perhaps head, as we did, for the nearby church of Santa Maria Immacolata delle Grazie.
On my first evening in Bergamo, when we ate at the nearby Ristorante Pizzeria La Bruschetta, my eye was drawn to the golden figure of the Virgin Mary on the dome of Santa Maria Immacolata delle Grazie. So when Chris and visited this part of Bassa a few days later I was keen to take a closer look at the church. However I was disappointed to find the door firmly closed, and found out later that this is usual during the lunch period when we were here (opening hours are apparently 7.15-11.45 am and 4.00-7.00 pm).
Of course when we got home I did some research to find out what we had missed. I learned that the church had its origins in 1422 when a convent was built on the site dedicated to Santa Maria delle Grazie. This convent was closed early in the 19th century though its cloisters remain and are apparently beautiful. The neoclassical design for this new church was developed between 1855 and 1857 by the architect Antonio Preda and the first stone was laid on 1 May 1857 by the bishop at the time, Monsignore Pierluigi Speranza. It was not finished until the turn of the century, when in December 1907 the main altar was consecrated in the presence of the then bishop Giacomo Maria Radini Tedeschi. The bishop was accompanied by his 26-year-old secretary Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli, a native of Bergamo who was to become Pope John XXIII. How appropriate therefore that the busy road outside is named for him – Viale Papa Giovanni XXIII.
So let’s explore a little further along that road.
Walking along Viale Papa Giovanni XXIII from Porta Nuova towards the station we passed a couple more very interesting monuments. This dramatic sculpture is part of the Monumento All'Alpino, which was commissioned and funded by the Bergamo section of the Associazione Nazionale Alpini (the National Alpine Association). In front of the bronze mountain climber, by sculptor Peppino Marzotto, a pool with fountains is lined with tile mosaics depicting scenes of Alpine life.
A little further along the road, near the tourist information centre, is a colourful statue of Harlequin (photo three). The legend below is in three languages: Italian, English and what I take to be a local dialect. The English version reads:
”They call me Harlequin, I’m a little mischievous and cunning
near Bergamo I was born, throughout the world I’m known”
For the interest of the linguists among you, here are the Italian and dialect versions too:
”Sono in arte l’Arlecchino, un pò scaltro e birichino
presso Bergamo son nato, in tutto il mondo rinomato”
”Mè só in arte l’Arlechì, impó balòss e berechi
prèss a Bèrghem só nassit, in töt ol mónd só conossit”
By this point in our walk we were getting hungry – time for lunch at Pizza & Co!
This impressive walls ringed the Citta Alta with numerous of massive gateway arches. In the 16th century the Venetians built this megalithic walls. From the walls there are marvelous views of the "Città Bassa", the wide plains as far as the airport of Orio al Serio, and all around a colourful patchwork of cultivated fields, gardens and orchards.
In the 19th century on top of the walls a walking itinerary was implemented, and they became and still a place where the locals enjoy to relax in the evenings or even walk down to the modern part of the town.
A series of wide squares marks the centre of Città Bassa. It is part of the urbanistic project that redesigned Bergamo Bassa and gave it a new centre in the 1920s, the era of fascism. The backbone of the ground plan is the long straight street from the train station towards the Città Alta: Viale Papa Giovanni XXIII – Porta Nuova – Viale Roma - Viale Vittorio Emanuele II.
The architect Marcello Piacentini (the very same who, for example, planned Via della Conciliazione in Rome, the street towards St Peter’s) designed the general plan for the new centre of Città Bassa as well as several individual buildings. Piacentini’s style is neo-neoclassical combined with some eclectic elements from other historical styles and a spur of fascist megalomania.
Porta Nuova, the New Gate, is more a wide entrance than a gate to the city. Two small neoclassical temples take the place of guard houses on both sides of the main street. The one of the East side is of some interest to visitors: this is the information and ticket shop of the public transport network.
Piazza Vittorio Veneto is the central part of this large opening in the middle of the city which you reach after passing through the gate temples. The clock tower, the two gatehouses and the loggias of the buildings around the square frame a well-designed street view towards Città Alta.
The clock tower, erected in 1922-1924, is not entirely decorative and peaceful, though. It is named Torre dei Caduti (“Tower of the Fallen”), hence meant as a memorial to the soldiers of World War I. The seated female statue is an allegory of Victorious Italy. The large window below contains a balcony that would be perfect for speeches during party rallies and such. The clock face is surrounded by four heads that symbolize the four winds.
The street that crosses at right angle is called the Sentierone. It is Bergamo's boulevard. On Sunday afternoon this crossing is closed to traffic so people can go for the traditional walk to people-watch and be watched. Cars and also city buses have to take a lengthy detour, so plan enough time.
This statue was a bit of a shock, while enjoying our Sunday morning stroll. It is located in Piazza Matteotti and shows a man hanging by his shackled feet. I wasn't quite sure quite what this represented, but looked it up when I returned home. I would have liked to have had longer to look at it
Created by Giacomo Manzu (real name Manzoni) who was born in Bergamo on December 22nd 1908. This bronze is titled "Monument to the Partisan" which he gave as a gift to the city of his birth in 1977.
Manzoni died on January 17th (or 18th) 1991
Leaving Via XX Settembre, and turning Right, brings you onto Via Sant Alessandro, another shopping street.
Named after Saint Alexander (Sant'Alessandro) of Bergamo - the patron saint of Bergamo, whom the Cathedral of Bergamo is dedicated to. There are other Churches around the city also dedicated to him
Along this street is a stone column, in front of the church (pic 2)- S. Alessandro in Colonna (column)
The column was constructed in 1618, from pieces of various Roman ruins, though their original origins and purpose aren't clear. A bit of 17th Century re-cycling!
The column is believed to be on the exact site where Alessandro was finally executed/martyred on August 26th 303 (or 298) by Romans. According to Wikipedia, he'd escaped execution at least 3 times, before his luck ran out. He was persecuted for his refusal to renounce his religion.
26th August is The Festival day of the Saint. In 2010, for the first time, the Festivities included a costumed re-enactment of the martyrdom at this site.
The church, which was closed at the time of my visit, was re-built on the site of an older church, in the 18th Century. The campanile was added in the early 20th Century. Outside is a water fountain
Inside are some paintings that are reported to be worth seeing;
"The Martyrdom of St Alexander" and "The Transfiguration" by Enea Talpino dating to 1629
"Deposition from the Cross" by Lorenzo Lotto -1517
"Transportation of the corpse of S. Alessandra" by Gian Paolo Cavagna.
Another good 'People Watching' spot, either from the steps of the church, or at one of the outside tables of the nearby Varadero bar.
Another of Citta Bassas attractive thoroughfares - grassed lawns, flower beds and statues spread out in front of the Palazzo Frizzoni-Bergamo Town Hall. This building was designed by Rodolfo Vantini, and dates to 1836
The Piazza is named after the Socialist politician Giacomo Matteotti, who publically denounced the fascist regime in publications and in Parliament. Eleven days after his open denouncement against fraud by the fascists in the recent elections, he was brutally murdered by his oppressors.
At my recent visit, there was a lively food market in the Piazza. At an earlier visit, I witnessed the end of a cycle race here.
At the edge of the Piazza near Porta Nuova is the thought provoking Monument to the Partisans
The Piazza leads into Via XX Settembre, Bergamo's main shopping street.
At the end of Via XX Settembre, is the very attractive Largo Nicolo Rezzara, with its' impressive arched portico
This square is the heart of the Borgo (neighbourhood) Sant Leonardo, and has a pleasant atmosphere.
The Church of San Leonardo nestles into the square. It was closed at the time of our visit
This square and the adjacent Piazza Pontida was the early commercial centre of Bergamo. In the 15th Century, merchants traded from the portico and surrounding area. Luxurious textiles such as silk, Velvet and quality woolen cloths would attract traders. Farmers also traded here.
Piazza Pontida was known as known as Cinque Vie (five roads), as roads from Treviglio, Crema, Lecco and Milan converged here, all forming trading routes in and out of the city.
A building in Piazza Pontida, was the setting for a speech made byGiuseppe Mazzini, (a compatriate of Giuseppe Garibaldi) on 3rd August 1848, imploring the citizens of Bergamo to help in the uprising against Austrian occupation.
A plaque on the building commemorates the occasion (pic 4)
Strolling from Piazza Pontida, we found ourselves in the enchanting Vicolo dei Dottori, where people were eating at tables, with inset 'miniature gardens'!. I would have liked to linger here, the buildings had quite a bit of character - ah well, next time!
This is a pleasant area to just stroll around, looking up, and exploring the 'nooks and crannies'
For a spot of retail therapy, this is the street to head to.
Wall to wall designer shops - clothes, footwear, handbags, sportswear, beauty products, jewellery, linens, phones and gadgets etc.
Trussardi, Fratelli Rossetti, Sisley, Stefanel, Calvin Klein, Zara and DEV are just a few of the shops here.
It's pedestrianised, so no need to worry about traffic.
If you don't intend spending any money, it's a good place for people watching! The buildings are quite attractive too, with some impressive facades.
The entrance to Galleria Mazzoleni (pic 4) belies the modern glass and chrome interior.
Shops on Via XX Settembre
The main post office in Bergamo is worth a visit to check out the Fascist styled architecture.
It was designed by Angiolo Mazzoni, who was the Chief architect for The Ministery of Communications and also for the State Railways, during the period of the Fascist regime in Italy.
Constructed from brownstone, it features a clock tower and long windows.
Check out the columns, topped with verdi gris statues, and the 'spread - Eagle' bas relief. There is also a small pool and fountain
The building was intended to impress the people of Bergamo, equating the Fascist era with 'progress'
Peeping inside, you get an idea of its impressive scale. Glass lamps and works of art add to the grandeur.
Works of art hang on the walls, including pieces by Mario Sironi, who was commisioned in 1934.
Open -Monday to Friday: 08.30 - 19.00. Saturdays: 08.30 – 12.30
Stamps and postcards can also be bought in Tabacceria (Tobacconists).
There is one near the Upper funicular station on Via Gambito, also Via Papa Giovanni in Citta Bassa