Bergamo is set in the beautiful region of Lombardy, northern Italy. Given that it is approximately 40 km north of Milan and just 30 km from Lake Como, it is an ideal location for just a day trip, although there’s plenty to do here to keep you occupied for considerably longer. Its location is as stunning as the town itself, standing at the foothills of the Orobie Alps, an area which is very popular with skiers. This is a place you should really take the time to discover. A beautiful fusion of modern culture combines with many centuries of history. In fact, the first historical evidence of Bergamo dates from 233 BC when it is known that the Roman military were there. In 49 BC Julius Caesar gave it the status of ‘Municipum’ and from this point, the previously Celtic settlement began its Romanisation process, with the creation of public buildings, fortifications and walls. Fascinating Roman ruins illustrate clearly the Roman town plan. It got its name from the Gauls, who called it “Berg-hem“, meaning ‘house in the mountain’ but later it was given the Latin name Bergamum by the Romans, who turned it into a city of great importance.
Make Your Way To Citta Alta
Bergamo is the most striking city in Lombardy and is comprised of two parts – the Città Bassa ‘lower city’ is the modern, lively, dynamic financial and industrial centre, whilst the very famous Città Alta ‘upper city’, built up on the hills is the striking medieval historic centre which is full of incredible monuments and fabulous works of art. Bergamo has its own airport, making travel to this destination very easy. Visitors will first reach the lower part of the city, which does have great charm and wonderful neoclassical buildings, great shopping and so many beautiful buildings, art galleries and more, but I think it is the old part which will instantly grab your attention. You cannot fail to be impressed with this utterly fabulous and incredibly picturesque hilltop town and the best way to get there from the bottom is on the funicular. Ticket prices are very cheap and you can buy a day ticket. A bus service is also available and if you are inclined you could walk and head up one of the several staircases to get to the top.
Discover the Piazza Vecchia
Once there you could start your visit at the Piazza Vecchia, (old square) the beautiful main square at the heart of Citta Alta. At one time this was the most important part of the city and today is one of the most popular meeting places for local residents and visitors to enjoy. At the centre of this historic square is the famous Contarini fountain, decorated with white marble lions, gifted to the city in 1780 by the chief magistrate Alvise Contarini to provide a source of drinking water to the people in the heart of the city. There are plenty of cafes here where you can sit and admire the spectacular architecture, such as the Palazzo Nouvo (New Palace) which, until 1873 was the city’s Town Hall and is now the location of the Angelo Mai Civic Library. Built at the start of the 16th century, this striking building with its white marble walls stands in stark contrast to the grey stone Palazzo della Ragione (Palace of Reason) opposite. This fabulous 12th century building dominates the square. It is a remarkable building which has served various purposes over its long history. Built originally for public meetings it has also served as a library and a theatre.
Just walk through the archways of the Palazzo della Ragione and you will find the Piazza Duomo. This stunning baroque cathedral church is dedicated to the Patron Saint Alexander of Bergamo. The interior of the cathedral is quite simply mind blowing. It has the most incredible frescoes and together with its fabulous dome it really is well worth a visit.
Take A Tour To The Top Of The Civic Tower
Also located in Piazza Vecchia is the Civic Tower (Campanone), literally the ‘big bell’ tower, which stands proud at a formidable 52 metres, making it the highest point in the city. Bergamo’s bell tower dates back to the 12th century and is situated next to the Palazzo della Ragione. There are two ways to reach the top of the tower, either by climbing the stairs or enjoying the easy route via the elevator. Once at the top you will be afforded the most spectacular views of the city. At the top of the tower there are three mounted bells, the largest ‘the campanone’ is the biggest in Lombardy and measures 2.7 metres in diameter. At 10pm every night the bell chimes 100 times, historically this was to signal the curfew for residents as the four entrance gates to the town were closed for the night.
Enjoy The Magnificent Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore
Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore, situated on the Piazza del Duomo is quite possibly the most beautiful church you could ever wish to see, despite its rather unassuming exterior and lack of a main entrance. It has a staggeringly long history, founded in 1137 on the site of a former 8th century church which had been dedicated to Saint Mary. Due to financial difficulties the work took a long time to complete. In fact, it took hundreds of years to finish and during that time was added to and adorned with exquisite frescoes, stuccos and tapestries. Four red and white marble lions can be seen at the northern and southern entrances. When you see the decoration, particularly the painstaking work that was carried out on the ceiling you cannot help but be in awe of the colossal amount of work that went into creating this amazing building and it should definitely be on your list of places to visit in Citta Alta.
Both the upper and lower city of Bergamo hold so many treasures to explore and delight its visitors, from the ancient cobbled streets to the wonderful churches and museums and fabulous works of art. It is a place to enjoy magnificent architecture, delicious food and breathtaking natural scenery. An amazing mix of old and new and a destination that you will want to visit time and time again.