Bergamo is an ancient town just 40kms north of Milan in the state of Lombardy, north Italy. The pleasant Citta Bassa, the low town, is much, much newer than Citta Alta, distantly visible.
Why visit Bergamo?
In the dim and distant past Bergamo was a Celtic settlement but it really hit the map when it became a Roman town in 49 BC. North of the town the Alps begin, so tourists often visit Bergamo, albeit briefly (and that’s all you need), en route for other Italian holiday destinations such as Lake Maggiore or Lake Como.
The 17th century defensive walls of the Citta Alta.
There is a cable car connecting the lower town to the upper, as well as a well marked footpath. Parking near the cable car (funicular) in Bassa is plentiful and up in the rarified atmosphere of Alta it’s very limited, though the bugcrew had no huge problem parking outside this wall. Inside the wall? Forget it!
A typical shady medieval street inside the city walls; tourists passing a monastery.
The main attraction in Bergamo is the interior opulence of these three religious institutions, the Duomo, Basilica and Cappella Colleoni.
Bergamo main attraction, Capella Colleoni
Capella Colleoni, very ornate, far left; Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore, simpler and near left; battistero (the baptistry), the small central octagon; the Duomo is just visible immediately on the right. They’re all in Piazza Duomo.
The mortuary Chapel of Colleoni (1472) sports the most dramatic exterior of this cluster of religious structures, a Renaissance masterpiece that is loaded with reliefs, sculptures and other artistic flourishes. The inside, however, though well worth a look, is small and lacks the wow factor of the neighbouring Basilica.
One of the fine marble friezes on the chapel’s outer wall.
Bartolomeo Colleoni was mercenery captain (condottiero) of a good family, born in Bergamo who eventually became a trusted commander of the Republic of Venice and was well respected by north Italian nobles as a powerful but honourable warrior, as well as an intelligent and charitable landowner. Just about the only disreptable act Colleoni appears to have been involved in was the grabbing and demolition of the Basilica’s sacristy – against the wishes of the clergy – to make way for this, his family chapel.
Inside the chapel.
Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore
And next door, the well-worn entrance to Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore.
Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore pulpit looking at the heavens.
The spectacular Romanesque Basilica Santa Maria Maggiore was founded in 1137 has been closely associated with choral and instrumental music for over 800 years.
Bergamo Cathedral’s (Duomo) very busy ceiling. No one sleeps in this house of God!
Renaissance-ornate like the other two structures on Piazza Duomo, though larger, the cathedral can’t help but be a little disappointing after the artistry and splendour of its neighbours, especially the Basilica. Any other city (except Rome or Florence) and the Duomo would be a major attraction but not so much here in Bergamo. In fact many people – including locals – don’t consider it to be a proper cathedral.
Piazza Vecchia, Bergamo
Piazza Vecchia and the Palazzo della Ragione, headed by a Venetian lion emblem.
Adjacent to the Duomo is Piazza Vecchia, the old town square, a delightful space and the place to sit for a while with an invigorating drink after staggering from one mass of eye-stinging, pious bling to another.
The Rocca, castle, very little to see (including the view) so not much of an attraction. Boo.
Caio bello Bergamo! A small but worthy day trip.
Best: June, July, September, with pleasant high temperatures (23C-28C), acceptable lows (14C-17C) and modest rainfall. The wettest months statistically are May and August, the driest but coldest (7C-0C) mid-winter.
Milan is the nearest big city and just 40 minutes away by train or an hour by car or bus at 60 kms on slow roads.
Lake Como is 124 kms away and takes up to an hour to get there by road, depending on traffic.