Bergamo is a small town in Lombardy to the east of northern Italy’s big hitters, Milan and Lake Como. Pressed up against the southern foothills of the Bergamo Alps, the town is laid out in tiers: the upper, older città alta, and the lower, modern città bassa. Take a look around and you’ll find a rich variety of architecture and some great food. If you find yourself in the north of Italy, a short stop in Bergamo is a must. Here’s our selection for the things to do in Bergamo.
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Take a walk along the Venetian Walls
The Venetian Walls were built in the 16th century by the Republic of Venice, when Bergamo belonged to the state. They mark the old town, also called the upper historic centre, the città alta. The walls were built to protect the city from the Republic of Milan and France during the decline of Venice’s control over maritime trade. Nowadays, the walls are a symbol of Bergamo’s history and enclose a fairytale-like town devoid of modernity. You can walk alongside the walls and through the parks that constitute a large part of Bergamo’s città alta.
Piazza Vecchia is upper Bergamo’s vibrant heart. Dominated by buildings and monuments of great importance, as well as great cafés and gelaterie, it can consume your whole day. It is worth examining the façade of the 12th-century Palazzo della Ragione, whose arches are decorated with animal busts, or the central fountain with four magnificent lion sculptures. Once on Piazza Vecchia, you should also have an ice cream at Caffè del Tasso, considered the best gelateria in town by the locals.
Admire Cappella Colleoni
The church and mausoleum Cappella Colleoni is the masterpiece of Giovanni Antonio Amadeo, a local artist from Pavia. It is located next to Piazza Vecchia and Bergamo’s cathedral. However, Cappella Colleoni stands out from the multitude of wonderful buildings thanks to its colourful marble façade and curious design. Its façade features biblical scenes and mythological stories , and its architectural style is a combination of renaissance, mannerism and later baroque. Inside, you’ll find a large number of valuable Italian frescoes and sculptures, plus the Colleoni family’s sarcophagus.
Visit Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore
Among the best things to do in Bergamo, is to enjoy the view at the magnificent Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore. This Basilica is located near Cappella Colleoni and the cathedral. Its complicated history dates to the ancient Romans, when the site was a temple. It was subsequently turned into a Christian church, and in the 12th century became a basilica. From the outside, the building looks similar to the way it did in medieval times (Romanesque architecture), with the exception of the entrance and the transepts, which were clearly added later. The transepts columns stand on marvellous marble lions.
See Italian masters at the Accademia Carrara
This art academy is one of the oldest in Italy. It is also an excellent, well-organised art gallery, which hosts a valuable collection of about 1,800 paintings from the 15th to the 19th centuries by fine Italian artists such as Raphael, Bellini, Botticelli, Canaletto and Pisanello. In the 1990s, a contemporary art gallery, GAMeC, was added to the complex, enlarging the range of the artwork to the 20th and 21st centuries.
Relax at Orto Botanico
Bergamo’s beautiful botanical garden is a part of the Museum of Natural Sciences. This nature space used to have only alpine flora, but has now broadened its collection to the local flora of Lombardy, as well as some foreign and exotic species. It is the finest green space in town, famous for its charming wildlife landscapes and mountains.
Walk the ancient Roman streets
Bergamo is one of the rare towns where you can walk on an ancient Roman road, or even two – namely the traditional, main streets called cardo and decumano, the first leading north-south, the latter east-west. These two streets were a stable and fundamental component of every Roman city; found now in many cities in Italy, Croatia, Bulgaria, Syria, Jordan and Israel. These oldest elements of Bergamo intersect where the 52m (170ft) medieval Gombito Tower stands.
Go shopping on Via XX Settembre
If you like shopping and modern surroundings, you do not have to leave Bergamo. The so-called lower city, the città bassa, will provide you with a variety of vibrant cafés, boutiques and shops. Via XX Settembre, named to celebrate the last steps in the creation of modern Italy in 1870, is the most enchanting and busiest street in the modern part of Bergamo. If you find yourself on it, walk to Feltrinelli, a large international bookshop where you can find anything from contemporary Italian novels to world classics to guidebooks.
Soak up the views from Torre Castello San Vigilio
This panoramic spot will provide you with the best view of Bergamo and beyond, including several mountain ranges and the nearby towns. To get here, take the tiny funicolare railway one level above the rest of the upper city. Once at the top, it will take around three minutes to reach the San Vigilio panorama spot. Look out for the map that explains what – and how much – you are seeing.
Visit the Rocca di Bergamo
The Rocca fortress in the città alta marks the highest spot in Bergamo, with panoramic views of the lower town and countryside. The fortification was started in the 14th century, but construction was interrupted many times by war. The building played an important role in the unification of Italy. Located next to the flowery Remembrance Park, you can come to the Rocca di Bergamo simply to admire the old town’s bell towers peeking out from between shrubs and trees.
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