The Harlequin City
The Harlequin City
Bergamo is a city many up of colourful patches. Like the suit of the legendary Harlequin. Here’s a list of 5 things to do in Bergamo.
According to legend the famous Zanni or silly servant of the Italian Commedia dell’arte, Harlequin, came from the Brembana Valley north of Bergamo. He was so poor, his mother had to make him a suit of different scraps and patches, which he kept even after he moved to town along with his rural manners, his insatiable lust and hunger and his funny Bergamasco dialect.
The modern city Bergamo can still be seen to contain traces of a Harlequin patchwork. It is a charming mix of high and low, old and new, rural and refined. Here’s our list of five things to do in Bergamo.
Any visit to Bergamo starts in the new town or Città Bassa. This is the 21st century version of town with motorized traffic, parking lots, railway station, factories, and housing. A typical Lombardian town where 118.000 people live, work and go to school, and the place to go shopping in the usual chain stores around Via 20 Settembre.
From the city on the plain you can look up on Bergamo Alta. An almost impenetrable and therefore intact Medieval hilltown that is only approachable by cable car, footpath or Ferrari. This is where people go in summer, when the heat on the plain becomes oppressive. Take a long walk on the 6.2 km defensive walls and enjoy the changing views of the beehive below, the distant landscape with mountains and valleys and the neatly cultivated allotments, where city gardeners sell homegrown, organic peppers and carrots.
In the narrow streets of the slightly claustrophobic Città Alta, a gluttonous Harlequin can find all the restaurants, wine bars, cafés and food shops he can possibly want. And in-between the beers and cakes you’ll come upon the most stunning Venetian piazzas. For 350 years Bergamo was part of the Venetian Republic and it shows in fountains and fretwork around Piazza Vecchia. Here you’ll see the Palazzo della Ragione with a covered staircase that brings Verona and Ferrara to mind. An imposing bell tower dating back to the 12th century and still strikes 100 times at 10 pm to announce the closing of the city gates. The Palazzo del Podesta Veneto. And above an arcade there’s the beautiful Palladian Palazzo Nuovo with a library containing approximately 700.000 books.
Walking through the arches from Piazza Vecchia, you’ll be dazed by the nicely framed sight of Piazza Duomo. This tiny square contains the exquisite Colleoni Chapel as well as a baptistery and a cathedral that brings the Certosa di Pavia to mind. You could spend days here and still discover new architectural and historic details, and inside the church there are amazing paintings by masters such as the great Giambattista Tiepolo.
After an OD on cultural and religious monuments you can walk further up to the Rocca on the top of the hill. The Rocca is a rough 14th century castle housing the not very interesting Museo Storico, but on a clear day you’ll be rewarded by a breathtaking panorama of the surrounding hills and valleys. And climbing the winding road to the Rocca gives you time to notice the peculiar walled up doors on some of the medieval houses. These blocked entrances next to the main door are generally known as the doors of the dead. They were believed to be opened only to let a coffin out of the house, when an important member of the household had died. Such Porta dei Morti can be found all over Italy, and some claim they are based on the Etruscan superstition that where Death once entered, he would enter again. Others say that by letting the dead out of a secret door, the Devil wouldn’t know he had gone.
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Until now, I’ve only thought of Bergamo as an airport. It actually sounds a very interesting place to stop for a bit.
I’ll definitely go back to Bergamo. And spend some time exploring the mountains and the lakes in the hinterland.
I spent 3 days in Bergamo earlier this year and have already booked to go back in 2018! There is so much to do and see in the city I never even made a day trip to Milan!
I fully agree, but if you do have time for a day trip, I’d recommend Brescia. It is smaller and therefore easier to navigate than Milan, and it’s absolutely lovely.