Medieval towers pierce mauve infused sunrise fog. Visions of another time are easy here, so close to Milan yet centuries away.
This city of a thousand, so named for the citizens role in Italy’s unification, is a unique surprise about an hour by train northeast of Milano. Though the city has become increasingly industrial in focus, the upper town (La Citta Alta) offers visitors unique insights into Italy’s political and architectural history.
With commanding views over the Val Brembana and Val Seriana, coupled with its position on alpine foothills between Milan and Venice, made Bergamo ripe for conquest. Beginning with the 6th Century, and continuing through the mid-1800’s, the city has experienced the political control of governments from Bohemia to France. Above the fray, the upper city’s residents retains a spirit of independence and fierce pride.
The highest point in the upper city is Castello di San Vigilio, a fortress with a tiny group of buildings. The small chapel of Santa Maria Madallena was used by defenders of the city as early as the 11th Century. The views from this highest point in the city are unforgettable. It is very easy to understand why this fromidable structure has been so coveted over the centuries.
After visiting the Castle, you can easily walk down to the Piazza Duomo, the main square of the Upper City, stopping for visits to the Museums of Archaeology, Donizetti – Bergamo’s most famous composer and Science. All of these are well worth the visit. If you time is limited, I recommend, at a minimum, the Archaeology museum. The Accademia, the Carrara Museum, is absolutely worth a few hours time as well.
For those whose interests tend to the influence of religion on the life of Italian cities, the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore is a must.
Construction on the church started in the mid 12th Century, with additional works continuing through the latter part of the 16th Century. Classically styled in a Roman, nearly Byzantine style which is referred to locally as Roman-Lombard style, the facade is spectacular.
The narrow lanes and byways of this part of the city invite time to linger, to allow all five senses to absorb the city’s profound history.
IF YOU GO:
I have a preference to visit Bergamo during the winter, when fog often wraps the streets and the absence of other visitors lends a more romantic and historic feel to time in the upper city.
Bergamo is reached by train in about an hour from Milan’s Centrale Station.
Upon arrival, I recommend buying a bus ticket at the information booth just outside the station. The A1 Bus will bring you up to the level of the second Funicular railway, which takes you all the way up to the Castello di San Vigilio. From there, you can easily walk down into the city. Return buses to the train station depart from all of the bus stops in the upper city.
Timetables for the bus and funicular systems are found here: ATB Bergamo.
If you wish to check the timetable for trains from Milano to Bergamo, check www.trenitalia.it. Click on the British Flag at the top of the screen for English and search “Milano” to “Bergamo” and the time of day you wish to travel.