"Town of two parts......" Top 5 Page for this destination Bergamo by leics
Bergamo Travel Guide: 1,050 reviews and 4,272 photos
I went to Bergamo purely for research purposes...for the 2012 Eurmeet (see the travelogues below for photos of a that very successful meet). I knew it was an attractive place with supremely easy access from all over Europe. I knew it had history, and interest, and views and I knew it had easy access by train or bus to loads of other interesting places: Brescia, Varenna, Milan, Verona, Lakes Iseo, Garda and Como.....
But I had not realised just what a pleasant place it really is, how stuffed with history, what magnificent views, how easy it is to wander around, how non-tourist-focused, how safe-feeling, how very green (trees and plants everywhere), how many birds...the birdsong was wonderful.....
I knew I'd enjoy my visit but had not realised quite how much!
So.....the basics. Bergamo is in two parts: the original, walled Citta Alta, set high up on a hill (keep an eye open for it when you are landing), its winding, narrow cobbled streets almost entirely free of traffic, Medieval tower houses (their tops long lopped-off) all over the place, a superb Duomo, Medieval Citadella, museums, cafes, restaurants...and two sort-of whizzy funiculars to help you up the first hill (to the main Citta Alta) and the second (to San Vigilio castle and lanes which lead into the countryside). There was, of course, a Roman settlement here long before the existing Medieval structures..and an Iron Age one before that. Hills in the middle of plains make good, safe places to live!
The second part is the Citta Bassa. The Citta Alta began to expand in Medieval times, and you can still get a feel for that expansion if you wander the neighbourhoods of Borgo Pignolo and Borgo Canale. You can wander the steep, stepped and cobbled alleyways leading up to and down from the original Citta Alta. And as you wander between drystone walls under the shade of overhanging trees, peering into the gardens of beautiful villas, let your mind wander back to the daily treks made by the Medieval inhabitants of this area.
Citta Bassa continued to expand, eating up the farmland which originally lay on the plain in Medieval times. You'll find mansions here, and sgraffito, and archways through which you can spy on the secret courtyards within. And you'll find shops and restaurants, superb gelato, friendly people (mostly), bars and cafes and a zillion university students (many of whom arrive on early morning trains...I enjoyed watching that arrival pre-breakfast, as my hotel was directly opposite the railway station).
My first full day was mainly spent in Bergamo Citta Alta (of course, given my interests). Fist, a hop onto bus 1A from opposite my hotel and straight on to its terminus in Colle Aperto. From there straight onto the funicular for Sam Virgilio, because I wanted to beat the crowds. Actually, the only crowds I came across were those on June 2nd, a public holiday...but I didn't know that then. I just assumed Bergamo would be thronged with visitors and tour groups.
The funicular ride has superb views but walking up to the highest point of the castle (of which little remains) was wonderful. No-one around, fantastic views of the surrounding countryside and distant mountains and barely a sound to be heard except the birdsong.
Down again into Citta Alta (next time I'll wander the lanes around San Virgilio) and an exploration of its architecture (see tips and travelogues). Little remains visible of the Roman city, but so much Medieval architecture still stands. Major attractions are the lovely Piazza Vecchia ('then most beautiful square in the world' according to Le Corbusier), the ancient Basilica Santa Maria Maggiore and the adjoining uber-twiddly pink-and-white Colleoni Chapel (make sure you rub one of the three testicles for luck!).
But, for me, it is always the side-streets and the ancient parts which peep out from the newer which appeal the most. Down in the basement of an uber-swish gallery I saw an ancient (Roman? Just-post-Roman?) mosaic pavement. The Piazza Mercato del Fieno (hay market) has three obvious and superb tower houses from the 1200s, and (in my opinion) several more; there's a map on one of the ancient houses which suggest 20+ tower houses still remain in Citta Alta. The remains of frescoes and sgraffito are commonplace sights as you wander, reminders of what a colourful place Citta Alta must once have been.
A final wander led me to the Rocca (almost certainly where the Roman Capitol was sited), the walls here improved in the early 1300s and with the most wonderful views to the east. It's also the green and shady site of Bergamo's Park of Remembrance, filled with memorials to the city's war dead and with some examples of guns and weaponry dotted about.
So that first day was mainly spent mooching around alleyways and narrow backstreets, poking into tiny courtyards, stopping for a gelato or a tranci or a beer, just enjoying the ambience and being pleased that Bergamo offered more than I had expected.
I had not intended to explore Citta Bassa very much. I thought that a quick wander each evening, seeking out somewhere to eat, would be sufficient because, as far as I knew, its history was not of the era which truly interested me: the 1800s. It's a bustling, busy area, full of shops and restaurants, bars and cafes, ordinary people living ordinary lives.
But being in Italy on 2nd June meant I was iffy about using long-distance public transport, and so I had an extra day. It allowed me not only to explore more of Citta Alta but also to spend some time discovering the various Borgi (neighbourhoods) of Citta Bassa, And I was surprised.
Citta Alta was too small by mid-Medieval times, and began to spread outside its walls. First I explored Borgo Pignolo, where narrow and winding Medieval streets still give clues to their age. Then, on the 'extra' day, I explored Borgo Canale, not only for its superb views and old buildings but also for some of the 'scaletti', the ancient stepped-and-cobbled pathways (vicoli) which lead up to the Citta Alta. As I made my way down these largely-deserted pathways, occasionally stopping for a rest in the warm sunshine amidst trees, flowers and birds, it was so very easy to imagine the peasants who farmed in the area now covered by Citta Bassa making their way up to Citta Alta for the markets...
And finally, on a research project for Eurmeet, I explored Borgo S Caterina and Borgo Palazzzo. Not as ancient as either Pignolo or Canale, being further from Citta Alta, but still with historical interest.
The excellent bus, tram and train services from Bergamo make it a super base for exploring elsewhere too. First time round, I visited Lecco, pretty Varenna and historically fascinating Brescia. On my second, Eurmeet, trip I explored the 'painted city' of Clusone, Sarnico, on the shores of Lago Iseo and Albino, the terminus of Bergamo's whizzy new tramline.
Bergamo is not only a town of two parts but also a town of two parts which are fascinating places to wander, with so many lovely and easy-to-access places to visit nearby. Even if you couldn't make Eurmeet 2012 then do try to spend at least a day in Bergamo. It really is worth your time!
I only found two lots of public toilets in Bergamo, one set being at the railway station (also squat toilets). It is, of... more travel advice
I wandered around S Catarina whilst researching potential restaurants. I wasn't expecting much of interest (although the... more travel advice
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- "Town of two parts......"
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