Bergamo’s beautiful upper town, the Città Alta (pictured above), is a magical place well worth visiting. Use this website to help you plan your trip to Bergamo in Northern Italy and find your way to some of the other lovely towns and villages in Lombardia that are perhaps less well known to tourists.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Giacomo Radini-Tedeschi – Bishop of Bergamo

Giacomo Radini-Tedeschi
Giacomo Radini-Tedeschi
The progressive priest who shaped the destiny of a future Pope, Giacomo Radini-Tedeschi will be remembered today on the anniversary of his death in 1914 in Bergamo.

Radini-Tedeschi was Bishop of the Diocese of Bergamo from 1905 and is respected because of his strong involvement in social issues at the beginning of the 20th century.

Radini-Tedeschi was born in 1857 into a wealthy, noble family living in Piacenza in Emilia-Romagna. He was ordained as a priest in 1879 and then became professor of Church Law in the seminary of Piacenza.

In 1890 he joined the Secretariat of State of the Holy See and was sent on a number of diplomatic missions.

In 1905 he was named Bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Bergamo by Pope Pius X and was consecrated by him in the Sistine Chapel.

Radini-Tedeschi was a strong supporter of Catholic trade unions and backed the workers at a textile plant in the Ranica district of Bergamo province during a labour dispute.

Working for him as his secretary at the time was a young priest named Angelo Roncalli who had been born at Sotto il Monte just outside Bergamo into a large farming family.

Roncalli went on to become Pope John XXIII in 1958 but he never forgot the values Radini-Tedeschi had taught him.

The Church of Santa Maria Immacolata delle Grazie in the Città Bassa
The Church of Santa Maria Immacolata
delle Grazie in the Città Bassa
The Bishop became ill with cancer and died at the age of 57 just after the outbreak of the First World War. His last words are reputed to have been: ‘Angelo, pray for peace.’

A landmark in Bergamo’s Città Bassa, the church of Santa Maria Immacolata delle Grazie in Viale Papa Giovanni XXIII, has an association with Radini-Tedeschi.

The huge church opposite Porta Nuova has a 19th century green cupola topped with a golden statue with an early 20th century campanile next to it. But the origins of the church date back to 1422 when a convent was built on the site dedicated to Santa Maria delle Grazie. The beautiful cloisters have been preserved within the church buildings although the convent was suppressed at the beginning of the 19th century.

The neoclassical design for the new church was created by architect Antonio Preda towards the end of the 19th century and in 1907 the main altar was consecrated in the presence of the Bishop, Giacomo Radini-Tedeschi, accompanied by his 26-year-old secretary, Angelo Roncalli, the future Pope John XXIII.

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Thursday, August 18, 2016

Ryanair announces new Bergamo routes for 2017

Ryanair plans 44 new routes to boost its Italian operation
Ryanair plans 44 new routes to boost its Italian operation
Ryanair, the Irish budget carrier which is now established as Italy's biggest airline, will operate new services to Bergamo in summer 2017 as part of a substantial expansion of its Italian operation.

Edinburgh will join Belfast, Bristol, East Midlands, London Stansted and Manchester among the UK's departure points for direct flights Orio al Serio, which is listed in timetables as Milan Bergamo.

There will also be a new flight from Vigo in Spain and from Luxembourg.  Ostrava in Czechoslovakia and the Serbian city of Niš were added to the timetable in 2016.

The new routes follow the announcement of a $1 billion investment by Ryanair in 10 new aircraft to cover a total of 44 new services, which will create 2,250 new jobs and result in an extra three million passengers per year arriving at Italian airports.

Ryanair had previously planned cutbacks to its Italian operation, including the closure of its Pescara hub, in response to increases in taxes being proposed by the Italian government but these increases have now been reversed.

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Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Birth of Vincenzo Coronelli – globe maker

Bergamo’s beautiful Civic Library (Biblioteca Civica Angelo Mai), in Piazza Vecchia in the upper town, is one of only a few places to be graced by a finely-crafted globe of the world made by Vincenzo Coronelli.

The elegant Biblioteca Civica Angelo Mai
in Piazza Vecchia
The Franciscan friar, who was also a celebrated cartographer and globe maker, was born on this day in 1650 in Venice.

He became famous for making terrestrial and celestial globes for the Duke of Parma and Louis XIV of France.

This started a demand for globes from other aristocratic clients to adorn their libraries and a few of Coronelli’s creations are still in existence today in private collections.

Coronelli was the fifth child of a Venetian tailor and was accepted as a novice by the Franciscans when he was 15.

He was later sent to a college in Rome where he studied theology and astronomy.
He began working as a geographer and was commissioned to produce a set of globes for Ranuccio II Farnese, the Duke of Parma. Each finely crafted globe was five feet in diameter.
After one of Louis XIV’s advisers saw the globes, Coronelli was invited to Paris to make a pair of globes for the French King.

The large globes displayed the latest information that had been obtained by French explorers in north America. They are now in the Francois Mitterand national library in Paris.

Coronelli died at the age of 68 in Venice having created hundreds of maps and some precious hand-made globes during his lifetime.

Original globes made by Coronelli can be seen in the Biblioteca Marciana in Venice and the Angelo Mai Civic library in Bergamo.

The globes in the library, photographed by Visit Bergamo
The Civic Library (Biblioteca Civica) Angelo Mai, where Coronelli’s globes are displayed, is at the centre of Bergamo’s upper town. Also referred to as Palazzo Nuovo, the library was founded in 1768 and houses more than 700,000 books, original manuscripts and scrolls.

It is believed that the two Coronelli globes came to Bergamo in 1692 after being purchased in Venice for the library of the Sant’Agostino monastery.

In 1797 when the monastery was suppressed the globes were in danger of being seized by French troops but they were hidden by a Bergamo nobleman in his home and later donated to the Civic Library by his son.

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Monday, July 25, 2016

On this day in 1467: Bartolomeo Colleoni led his troops in the Battle of Molinella

The first time artillery played a major part in warfare

A portrait of Bartolomeo Colleoni
A portrait of Bartolomeo Colleoni
Bergamo’s famous condottiero Bartolomeo Colleoni led his troops into battle on this day in 1467 at Molinella near Bologna.

On his side were infantry and cavalry representing Venice and on the other side there was an army serving Florence.

The occasion is now regarded as one of the most important events in Italian history as it was the first time artillery and firearms had been used extensively during a battle in Italy. Cannons with barrels up to 12 feet long would fire balls of metal or stone.

Leading the 14,000 soldiers fighting for Venice, Colleoni was working jointly with Ercole I d’Este from Ferrara and noblemen from Pesaro and Forlì.

Against Colleoni, another condottiero, Federico da Montefeltro, led an army of 13,000 soldiers serving Florence in an alliance with Galeazzo Maria Sforza, ruler of the Duchy of Milan, King Ferdinand II of Aragon and Giovanni II Bentivoglio, the ruler of Bologna.

Condottieri were essentially mercenaries, experienced military leaders who could be hired by Italy's city-states to organise and lead armies on their behalf.

The fighting took place between the villages of Riccardina and Molinella in Emilia-Romagna and the event is also sometimes referred to as the Battle of Riccardina.

It is not certain which side won, but as a result Colleoni abandoned his plans to conquer Milan. There were hundreds of casualties and a large number of horses were killed.

The following year Pope Paul II managed to broker a peace between the two sides.

Frescoes at Colleoni's Malpaga Castle show scenes from the Battle of Molinella
Frescoes at Colleoni's Malpaga Castle show scenes
from the Battle of Molinella
Bartolomeo Colleoni spent the last years of his life living with his family at his castle in Malpaga to the south of Bergamo, which has frescoes depicting scenes from the Battle of Molinella that have been attributed to the painter Il Romanino.

The castle is open to the public at weekends between March and November.

As you walk round Bergamo you will see a chapel, a street, a bar and a restaurant named after Colleoni, who was a respected military leader who spent most of his life in the pay of the republic of Venice defending Bergamo against invaders.

He is remembered as one of the most honourable condottieri of his era, carrying out charitable works and agricultural improvements in Bergamo and the surrounding area when he was not involved in a military campaign.

He left money to Venice, with a request that an equestrian statue of himself be erected in Piazza San Marco. The statue was made by Andrea del Verrocchio, but as there was a rule that no monument was allowed in the main piazza, it was placed opposite the Scuola di San Marco in Campo Santi Giovanni e Paolo.

Towards the end of his life, Colleoni turned his attention to designing a building to house his own tomb in the Città Alta (upper town), which was to give Bergamo its most ornate and celebrated building, the Cappella Colleoni (Colleoni Chapel).

The Colleoni Chapel in Bergamo
The Colleoni Chapel in Bergamo
He commissioned the architect Antonio Amadeo to design an impressive chapel, where he could be buried with all the insignia of a captain of the Venetian republic, and the sacristy of the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore in Piazza Duomo had to be demolished to make way for this.

Amadeo designed the Cappella Colleoni to harmonise with Santa Maria Maggiore using pink and white marble to match the colours of the doorway of the basilica.

Inside the chapel he designed an elaborate two tier sarcophagus surmounted by a golden statue of Colleoni on horseback.

Colleoni died on 2 November, 1475 and his body was placed in the lower sarcophagus following his own instructions, where it still lies today.

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Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Walter Bonatti: the Bergamo climber regarded as one of the greatest alpine mountaineers

Photo of Walter Bonatti
Walter Bonatti, pictured in 1965
Among the famous people who have been born in Bergamo over the years is a man regarded by many as the greatest alpine mountaineer who ever lived.

Walter Bonatti was born on June 22, 1930.  He spent a large part of his childhood near Monza in the vast flat Po Valley, but his heart remained in the mountains.  During the Second World War, he lived with relatives in the town of Vertova in Val Seriana to the north-east of Bergamo and attended school in nearby Gazzaniga.

When he was 18 years old, he began to undertake climbs in the Bergamo Alps and scaled the Campaniletto in the Grigne group, above Lecco, where he demonstrated considerable ability despite being able to afford only rudimentary equipment.

Within a few months he was climbing the huge towers of the Grignetta.  His military service with the 6th Alpini Regiment in the Dolomites and Mont Blanc added to his experience and by his early 20s he had already scaled many significant alpine peaks and was regarded as the coming star of mountaineering.

Yet he had to fight for 50 years to be recognised fully for his brilliance after an incident during the victorious Italian conquest of the 8,611 metre K2, the second highest mountain in the world, part of the Karakoram range to the north-east of the Himalayas.

As the Italian group attempted to succeed where five previous expeditions had failed, group leader Ardito Desio decided that the more experienced Lino Lacedelli and Achille Compagnoni should be the climbers to make the final ascent, even though Bonatti was in better physical condition than either.  Compagnoni was 39 years old.

It was the job of Bonatti and the Pakistani climber Amir Mehdi to follow behind with oxygen supplies to be delivered to the final base camp, but when they reached the point agreed they found that Lacedelli and Compagnoni had placed the camp at a higher location.

By then the light was fading and it was too dangerous for Bonatti and Mehdi to reach the relocated final base camp or return to the previous one.  He and Mehdi were forced to spend the night in the open, without tents or sleeping bags, at temperatures of minus 50 degrees Celsius.  They survived, setting a record for the highest open bivouac (8,100 metres) but Mehdi lost all his toes to frostbite and spent eight months in hospital.

Photo of the Grigna and Grignetta mountains
The Grigne range where Bonatti cut his climbing teeth
The following day, as they made their way back down the mountain, Lacedelli and Compagnoni collected the oxygen cylinders and reached the summit.  They were acclaimed as national heroes but a furious Bonatti accused them of deliberately moving the base camp so that he would not be able to join them in climbing to the summit.  

They denied this, insisting the location originally agreed had been too dangerous, counter-accusing Bonatti of using some of their oxygen, which ran out close to the summit.

Bonatti was blamed for Mehdi's plight and for years he was vilified by a substantial part of the Italian climbing community, who preferred to protect the reputation of Lacedelli and Compagnoni and not discredit their triumph.

It was not until 2004, when Lacedelli admitted in a book about the expedition that Bonatti's account was correct, that his name was cleared.  Lacedelli and Compagnoni knew that, had he been given the chance, Bonatti would have completed the ascent without the need for supplemental oxygen and his achievement would have overshadowed theirs, so they moved the base camp in an attempt to deter him.

Despite the damage to his reputation, Bonatti continued to climb, mainly on his own.  He found it hard to trust other climbers.

Among his triumphs were a solo climb of a new route on the south-west pillar of the Aiguille du Dru in the Mont Blanc massif in August 1955, the first ascent of Gasherbrum IV in the Himalayas in 1958 and in 1965 the first solo climb in winter of the North face of the Matterhorn.

Immediately after his solo climb on the Matterhorn, Bonatti announced his retirement from professional climbing at the age of 35 and after only 17 years.  Afterwards, the pursued a career as a writer and journalist, writing books on mountaineering and reporting from around the world for the Italian magazine Epoca. 

In his later years, married to the actress Rossana Podestà, he lived in a house above the mountain village of Dubino, close to Lake Como.

He died in 2011 in Rome, where he was being treated for pancreatic cancer. His funeral took place in Lecco.

(Photo of the Grigne mountains by Luca Casartelli CC BY-SA 2.0)

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Friday, June 17, 2016

Exhibition in Lovere commemorates career of motorcycle world champion Giacomo Agostini

Photo of Giacomo Agostini in action
Giacomo Agostini in action on his MV Agusta
The lakeside town of Lovere is always worth visiting and currently there is an extra attraction for fans of Grand Prix motorcycle racing in the shape of an exhibition recalling the record-breaking career of the Italian rider Giacomo Agostini.

Agostini, the 15 times world motorcycling champion who celebrated his 74th birthday earlier this week, was born in Brescia but his family moved to Lovere when he was 13.

It is 50 years since he won the world title for the first time in 1966 and the anniversary is being marked with a month-long exhibition at Lovere's Accademia Tadini, which overlooks the picturesque Lago d'Iseo.

Riding for the Italian MV Agusta team, Agostini won the 500cc class seven times in a row from 1966 to 1972 and the 350cc class seven times in succession from 1968 to 1974, adding a further 500cc title on a Yamaha in 1975.

His total of 122 Grand Prix wins from 1965 to 1976 is the highest by any rider in the history of the sport, although his fellow Italian, 37-year-old Valentino Rossi, is now only eight behind on 114. 

Agostini, who retired at 35, was unbeaten in 350cc and 500cc races for three seasons between 1968 and 1970, equalling the record held by his great rival Mike Hailwood of Great Britain for most wins in a season when his recorded 19 first places in the 1970 campaign.

Agostini also won 10 races at the Isle of Man TT, the most by any non-British rider. It might have been more but he decided to quit TT racing in 1972 after his close friend, Gilberto Parlotti, was killed during the event.  

Photo of Giacomo Agostini
Giacomo Agostini
He is also the only Italian to win the prestigious Daytona 200 race in America. 

He had a season driving Formula One cars for Williams in 1980 but then switched to management, where he enjoyed more success, winning three 500cc world titles with the Californian rider Eddie Lawson of Marlboro Yamaha.  Agostini also managed for Cagiva and Honda before retiring in 1995.

The eldest of four brothers, Giacomo Agostini was only 11 when he rode a moped for the first time and knew immediately he wanted to race motorcycles.  His father Aurelio, who was a local government employee in Lovere, wanted him to become an accountant but allowed him to pursue his dream after seeking advice from a lawyer who was a family friend.

The lawyer told him he thought sport would be good for Giacomo's character and only later did Aurelio find out that his friend had misunderstood him and believed Giacomo wanted to take up cycling.  

His mother, Maria Vittoria, ensured that when he raced he always carried in his helmet a medal showing the image of Pope John XXIII, who hailed from Sotto il Monte, a small village which, like Lovere, is in Bergamo province. 

The exhibition at the Tadini Academy, which runs until July 3, is called Giacomo Agostini: The Golden Age.  Sponsored by a local furnace manufacturer, Forni Industriali Bendotti, as part of their 100th anniversary celebrations, the exhibition includes many mementoes of his career, including the suits and helmets he wore in his first and last races.

Visitors can also admire - in Lovere's Piazza XIII Martiri - an artwork featuring one of Agostini's bikes by the Milan architect Mauro Piantelli entitled "Of the Brave and his Steed".

Lovere, the largest town on the western shore of Lago d’Iseo, has wonderful views of the top of the lake with its dramatic backdrop of mountains. 

Photo of Palazzo Tadini in Lovere
Lovere's impressive Palazzo Tadini
The Accademia Tadini is based at the classical Palazzo Tadini, which looks out over the lake from Via Tadini and is one of the most important art galleries in Italy. 

The church of Santa Maria in Valvendra has some sixteenth century frescoes and the church of San Giorgio, which is built into a medieval tower, contains an important work by Palma il Giovane. 

Lovere is about an hour's drive from Bergamo along the SS42 highway and there is also a bus service from Bergamo.  You can take a boat from Lovere over to Pisogne on the eastern shore of the lake. The landing stage adjoins Piazza XIII Martiri. 

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Saturday, June 11, 2016

Birth of Antonio Cifrondi

Artist left us accurate images of everyday 17th century life

Baroque artist Antonio Cifrondi was born on 11 June 1655 in Clusone,  just north of Bergamo.

Artist Antonio Cifrondi's self-portrait
He has become known for his religious works and his genre paintings of old men and women and of people at work, in which he depicts their clothing in great detail.

Much of his work is on display in art galleries and churches throughout the region of Lombardy.

His self-portrait can be seen in the church of Sant’Alessandro della Croce in Via Pignolo in the lower town. One of his most acclaimed works, a painting of An Old Woman with a Stick, can be seen at the Civic Museum of Art and History in Brescia.

Cifrondi was born into a poor family in Clusone, the main town in the Valle Seriana to the north east of Bergamo.

After training as a painter locally he moved to Bologna, and then to Turin and to Rome, where he stayed for about five years. He also worked briefly at the Palace of Versailles near Paris.

He came back to live in the Bergamo area in the 1680s, after which he painted many of his major works. He lived for the last years of his life in a convent near Brescia, where he died in 1730.

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