Bergamo is situated in the Lombardy region of northern Italy, to the north-east of Milan. The town is divided into two quite separate parts:
- the Bergamo Alta ["Upper Bergamo"] is the ancient centre, surrounded by walls and rich in beautiful monuments. It is modelled according to the medieval plan of the town, with narrow and winding roads and is the focus of your visit
- The Bergamo Bassa [Lower Bergamo] has evolved where already in the Middle Ages there were some villages outside the walls, and today the modern city is still growing
Explore Bergamo: a cultural itinerary
If you are interested in Italian artistic and architectural heritage you will enjoy a visit because in Bergamo there are numerous impressive examples of both.
Arriving in Bergamo
In Upper Bergamo there are four gates dating from the end of the 16th century when the region was dominated by Venice. If you arrive from Venice you will pass through the Porta San'Agostino, from Milan you arrive at the Porta San Giacomo; from the Alps the Porta San Lorenzo, and from the Adda, you cross the Porta Sant'Alessandro.
Alternatively, if you arrive in Bergamo at the railway station follow Via Torquato Tasso that runs as far as the Renaissance Church of Santo Spirito. From here you can see the mansions of noble families along the road to Pignolo, such as those of the noble families of Tasso, Martinengo, Mazzoleni and Gratarola.
Whichever route you are arriving from you will follow the narrow roads that move towards the heart of the old town of Bergamo, around Piazza Maggiore and Piazza Vecchia.
In this area in and close to Piazza Vecchia you can admire some of the best known monuments and mansions in Bergamo including the Podestà's Palace and the Palazzo della Ragione and Bergamo Cathedral. The Torre del Campanone here still marks 10 pm as a curfew!
Continue your visit with some of the architectural highlights, starting with the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore, which was begun in 1137 by "Maestro Fredo". This is notable above all for the portal to the north which is preceded by an arcade created by Giovanni di Ugo da Campione in 1353. Inside you can see some frescoes in the dome by Tiepoli, among other highlights. The baptistry next to the cathedral dates from the 14th century.
Another masterpiece is the Colleoni Chapel, built between 1470 and 1476 by Giovanni Antonio Amedeo (1447-1522), a work in the Renaissance style. Inside the Colleoni Chapel you can admire the funerary statue of Medea Colleoni, daughter of the leader of mercenary troops Bartolomeo Colleoni (1400-1475). The work is by Giovanni Antonio Amadeo, and brought to Bergamo in 1842 from the Church of Santa Maria della Bosella at Ugnano.
Another imposing monument is the so-called Torre dei Caduti ["Tower of the fallen"], in Piazza Vittorio Veneto beside Piazza Dante and Piazza della Libertà, a work created between 1919 and 1929 to a plan by Marcello Piacentini (architect - Rome 1881-1960).
Going beyond the Fontana del Delfino ["Fountain of the Dolphin"] you come to the Church of Saint Augustine, the walls built during the Venetian dominion and the "Rocca" [Fortress], built in the fourteenth century by King John of Bohemia, and surrounded by a park with lovely views.
For the best far-reaching views, you can follow the path up the hillside to the north-east of the city to the botanical gardens at Orti Botanico Lorenzo Rota (gardeners will also enjoy exploring these gardens).
Some of the best known Italian and foreign painters of the Renaissance worked in the beautiful mansions and churches that you will see in the center of Bergamo. Among the best known of these are Giovambattista Tiepolo (1696-1770), Giambattista Moroni (1510-1578), Lorenzo Lotto (1480-1556), Vittorio Ghislandi, (nicknamed "Fra' Galgario") (1665-1745), a renowned portrait-painter of the nobility from Bergamo, and Evaristus Baschenis (1617-1777), painter of some splendid "Still Lifes".
Although many of the works by these painters are now located in various Italian and foreign museums, in Bergamo you can visit the "Accademia Carrara" Art Gallery (in the lower town) to see some artworks of great beauty by 15th-17th century artists such as Mantegna, Squarcione, Tiziano, Perugino, Raffaello, Pinturicchio, Canaletto and Van Dyck.
Places to visit near Bergamo
There are several interesting attractions in the countryside around Bergamo, which is known especially for the castles - including the castles of Malaga, Predore, Cologno, Brembate, and many others throughout the hills and the flat country around the town.
Another local architectural highlight you will see as you explore are the numerous barn-shelters.
Of course, no visit would be complete without enjoying the local cuisine and there are a good number of typical restaurants, displaying the sign "Local dishes from Bergamo". You can also then taste the local wines produced in the countryside around Bergamo.
Related article: to best appreciate a visit to Bergamo and the many influences that have shaped the town we see today it is useful to first have a brief look at the history of Bergamo.
You can find more local travel ideas in the Lombardy guide.