Città Bassa, Bergamo
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!
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.
The Porta Nuova (New Gate) is one of the main landmarks of the lower town (Citta Bassa) of Bergamo. (I use it often as one of my landmarks for directions to other sites in my tips)
It is considered to be the hub of the lower town. One of the main boulevards in Bergamo is Viale Papa Giovanni XX111, which leads from near the train station, to this Portal.
I was pleased that I could see this gateway from my hotel window (Best Western), with the old Upper Town (Citta Alta) in the background.
This was the site of one of the gates of the Muraine, which was a city wall. This enclosed part of the lower town and the Borghi (groups of buildings that had developed along the roads that linked Bergamo with Its Valleys and the cities of Venice, Milan and Como.
In ancient times, each August, the Sant' Alessandro Fair was held, and the gateway had originally been built to allow easier access to this event for all of the tradespeople, entertainers, travellers, animals etc that the fair attracted.
During the 18th century, gates were fixed between the propylaea, which were locked at night, to protect the city from criminals!
The gateway seen today was constructed in 1837. The 2 neoclassical buildings flanking the gateway are the Propylaea or columned atriums, which, I guess were modelled on the Parthenon in Athens. They were used as a customs and excise checkpoint until the beginning of the 20th Century. A toll being charged here to enter the city. (A year later, the road, which today is called Viale Papa Giovanni XX111 was constructed, in celebration of the visit by Ferdinand 1, when it was named the Ferdinandea Road.)
The one on the left, near the Torre Dei Caduti War Memorial (The Clocktower), contains a flower shop, which you can smell before you see it! Lovely perfumes from the plants and bulbs. I would have liked to have purchased a bunch of flowers to take home, but sadly, they wouldn't have survived my plane journey.
The Right hand temple contains the office of the Atb (local bus company) where you can purchase tickets, check time-tables etc.
The Torre Dei Caduti was inaugerated in 1927, and was originally supposed to have the figures of 2 Moors striking the hours. This was inspired by the Tower in St Marks Square in Venice. I'm not sure why this plan changed.
Between this ancient entrance to the town, and the Old Upper Town (Citta Alta), is the entrance to the Sentierone. (Please see my next tip)
This broad tree lined Avenue, with its arched buildings is found between the Porte Nuova and the Upper Town. It is considered to be the main road of Lower Bergamo. It was the original Main Street of the New Town.
From 908AC until around 1850, a market or fair had been held in this area of Bergamo. The Fair of S. Alessandro was first recorded as taking place in 908AC. It developed through the centuries as an important trading centre, especially in silk, which was treated here before being exported to London, then Lyon in France.
During the Venetian occupation the first 8 days of the fair goods brought into the city were tax free, then a 50% tax reduction for the following 4 days.
By the 18th century, merchants had established themselves in this area. In 1732, they collected funds, in order to convert some wooden warehouses into around 210 stone shops. They were successful in gaining approval for this project from Doge Carlo Ruini 3 years later.
A grand square building was constructed (in the area of the Sentierone and the Palace of Justice). with 4 towers that housed The Health Tribunal, the Fair Curators, The Magistrate of Provisions and the Tribunal of Justice
12 entrances (3 on each side) led to 540 shops! A central attraction was a fountain (which can be seen in Piazza Dante) - A for runner of our modern shopping malls?
The Sentierone extends to the east along Via Tasso, and to the west, along one of Bergamos most fashionable shopping streets - Via XX Settembre.
Nowadays, It has become a popular place for the Bergamasque to promenade during the evenings and at weekends. A place where friends meet up, families show off their babies, and you get to see the Italian sense of style!)
You can also stroll the spacious gardens of the Sentierone, which were re -designed in the1920s by architect Marcello Piacentini, with loggias, porticos and tree-lined piazzas. (I'm afraid that we didn't have time to stroll around the gardens)
We spent a late night in one of the trendy bars (Bar Code 212) on the Saturday, which is located in the old stone archways.
The next morning we wandered along this way again, and continued along Via Tasso. It was the weekend before Easter, so it was interesting to watch the smartly dressed churchgoers, chatting in groups, some carrying olive branches.
There was a lovely atmosphere, and we were enjoying wandering about in the sunshine so much, that we nearly lost track of time, and had to run back to our hotel to grab our cases before just catching the bus back to the airport.
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
Gaetano Donizetti, is another of Bergamos famous citizens- Born here 29th November 1797, he studied music in his home city, before moving to Naples and then Paris. Bergamo was never far from his thoughts, and he returned here to die on April 8th 1848.
Throughout Bergamo you will find reminders of his life here - this statue probably gives some idea of how proud the people of Bergamo were of 'their son'.
It is located in a small park adjacent to the Gaetano Donizetti Theatre,
In 1897, on the centenary of his birth, the Theatre was dedicated to Donizetti, and the statue was inaugurated.
The statue was created in 1897 by F. Jerace. The original plaster model is to be found in the Gaetano Donizetti Museum in Citta Alta. (Housed in the Palazzo Della Misericordia Maggiore)
Citta Bassa as the name implies is the lower but modern city of Bergamo that was laid out in the twentieth century. While the old city up on the hill maintains and preserve its historical value, the lower city has transformed into a modern centre developed on the plain with its small firms and industries.
Though Citta Bassa is modern in its own right, it has been part of the old Bergamo history and is worth a visit. Afterall we will never find it anywhere, Citta Bassa can only be in Bergamo. See the photos I have posted taken from the upper city.
The 17th century marble facade of the church of San Alessandro della Croce dominates in whole Via Pignarola.
The facade dates back to early 20th century and was added to the internal structures built and decorated between the 17th and 18th centuries upon the perimeter of the previous church. The marble altar is of great interest. The whole altar is inlayed by Andrea Fantoni in 1728. The same goes for the large paintings by Enea Talpino from 1621.
The 45 metre Torre dei Caduti rises on Piazza Vittorio Veneto, it is the first sight of the city one notice entering in between two large suburbs, the Borghi - Borgo Pignolo to the east and Borgo San leonardo to the west.
This is the point from which you can start your walk tour towards magnificient Citta Alta.
The neo-Classical styled local theatre, founded in 1786, is dedicated to the famous Bergamask Maestro Gaetano Donizetti, born here in 1797.
In front of the theatre stands the monument to the Maestro, erected in 1897, in the centenary year of the birth of this great musician. The ahthor is Francesco Jerace, a Calabrian sculptor.
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
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.
Porta Nuova, the “new city gate”, never actually served as a defensive or toll collecting structure. It was built in 1937 as part of the city renovation plans applied to Bergamo in fascist times. So, coming from the train station, Porta Nuova is more a symbolic gate into the city center of Bergamo. It is now the home of the tourist information center. The Square of Porta Nuova is the main traffic point of Bergamo with almost all bus lines calling there.