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.

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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Saturday, May 21, 2016

Matteo Renzi in Bergamo

Prime Minister Renzi, flanked by police officers and
photographers, makes his way out of Piazza Vecchia
Prime Minister Matteo Renzi paid a visit to Bergamo today to explain the Government's point of view ahead of Italy's 2016 referendum on the constitution.

At a conference to launch his campaign inside Teatro Sociale in Via Colleoni in the Città Alta (upper town), Renzi appealed to his audience to 'help change Italy' by voting Si to constitutional change in October.

Afterwards he strolled through the upper town's historic Piazza Vecchia in the sunshine, greeting supporters and surprising diners sitting outside the restaurants and bars, before leaving through an exit next to the Caffe del Tasso, flanked by police officers and security men.

Teatro Sociale is a small theatre in one of Bergamo's oldest streets, Via Colleoni, an ancient Roman thoroughfare that used to be known as Corsarola.

Piazza Vecchia is said to be one of the most beautiful squares in Italy, with its mixture of medieval and Renaissance architecture, and is lined by smart restaurants and bars with outside tables.

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Thursday, April 7, 2016

The Bergamo chorister who grew up to be a celebrated tenor famous around the world

Rubini was born in Romano di Lombardia
Giovanni Battista Rubini was born
 in Romano di Lombardia in 1794
Giovanni Battista Rubini, born on this day in 1794 in Romano di Lombardia in Bergamo province, grew up to be an international star in opera, a tenor as famous in his day as Enrico Caruso would be almost a century later.

Blessed with an exceptionally high yet beautifully lyrical voice, his popularity ended the dominance of the castrati in the leading male roles in opera and he is credited with launching the era of the bel canto tenor. 

He formed close partnerships with Vincenzo Bellini and Bergamo's own Gaetano Donizetti, his popularity boosting their standing among composers of the day.

At the peak of his fame, Rubini alternated between Paris and London, singing at the Théâtre-Italien in Paris and His Majesty’s Theatre in the Haymarket, London.  He toured Germany and Holland with Franz Liszt in 1843 and in the same year performed in St. Petersburg, Russia, where Czar Nicholas I appointed him Director of Singing and made him Colonel of the Imperial Music. 

Precociously talented, Rubini was just 12 when he was taken on as a violinist and chorister at the Riccardi Theatre in Bergamo. He was 20 when he made his professional debut in Pietro Generali’s Le lagrime d’una vedova at Pavia in 1814, then sang for 10 years in Naples.  

In 1825 he sang the leading roles in Gioacchino Rossini’s La Cenerentola, Otello, and La donna del Lago in Paris and was soon regarded as the leading tenor of his day. 

Teatro Donizetti is built on the site of Teatro Riccardi, where Rubini was a violinist and chorister as a boy
Teatro Donizetti is built on the site of Teatro Riccardi,
where Rubini was a violinist and chorister as a boy
Bellini wrote many operas specifically with Rubini's voice in mind, giving him the tenor leads in Il pirata, La sonnambula and I Puritani, in which he starred alongside the soprano Giulia Grisi, the baritone Antonio Tamburini and the bass Luigi Lablache, who collectively became known as the “Puritani quartet.”

The four also appeared together in Donizetti's Marino Faliero during the same season. Rubini premiered Donizetti's La lettera anonima, Evida, Il giovedì grasso, Gianni di Calais, Il paria and Anna Bolena. 

In 1845 he retired to Romano di Lombardia and bought a palazzo there, which became a museum after he died in 1854, a month short of his 60th birthday.

Teatro Riccardi stood on the site of Teatro Donizetti in Bergamo's Città Bassa.  Opened in 1791, it was destroyed in a fire in 1797 and reopened in 1800.  It was renamed Teatro Gaetano Donizetti, now commonly shortened to Teatro Donizetti, in 1897, the centenary of the composer's birth. 

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Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Marvellous memento of your time in Bergamo

You can now take the beautiful sights of Bergamo’s Città Alta home with you, not just in your pictures, but also in the form of unique souvenirs.


A range of gold-embossed, leather bookmarks has been created, depicting some of the most beautiful and historic buildings in the upper town.

The bookmarks are now on sale at the Caffè del Tasso in Piazza Vecchia in the Città Alta and at the gift shop in the Accademia Carrara in Piazza Giacomo Carrara in the Città Bassa.

Elisabetta Campanini - creator
 of Bergamo bookmarks
The souvenirs were the idea of Bergamo tour guide Elisabetta Campanini, who used to collect leather bookmarks, buying them at tourist attractions whenever she visited England.

Elisabetta was born and brought up in the Città Alta and is passionate about sharing her detailed knowledge of the upper town with the visitors she shows round.

“It was always my dream to create the same kind of leather bookmarks for my native city that I used to admire in England, to provide people with the opportunity to buy a souvenir of what they have seen during their stay in Bergamo,” she says.

Five different bookmarks

Each bookmark (segnalibro) shows a selection of architectural masterpieces in the Città Alta:
Complete set of Bergamo bookmarks

  • One depicts Piazza Vecchia, with Palazzo della Ragione, the Contarini fountain and Civic Library.
  • Another shows the landmark towers of the Città Alta - the Gombito Tower and the Campanone.
  • There is a bookmark dedicated to the Colleoni Chapel, showing the façade of the building and details such as the rose window and coat of arms of the Colleoni family.
  • Three churches, Santa Maria Maggiore, the Baptistery and the Tempietto are represented on a fourth bookmark. 
  • And all four gates to the walled city, Porta San Giacomo, Porta San Lorenzo (also sometimes known as Porta Garibaldi), Porta Sant’Alessandro and Porta Sant’Agostino are shown on the fifth bookmark.

The bookmarks are made in Bergamo using high-quality Venetian leather and are on sale individually at five euros or can be bought as a set.

For more details, email freelance tour guide Elisabetta Campanini at info@acrossBergamo.com.

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Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Birth of Pope John XXIII

It was an awe-inspiring achievement for a farmer’s son with a lot of siblings from a hamlet just outside Bergamo to become Pope and an influential world leader.
But this was the journey made by the much-respected Pope John XXIII, who was born into a large farming family on 25 November in 1881 at Sotto il Monte near Bergamo.
Viale Papa Giovanni XXIII leads to the upper town
Originally named Angelo Roncalli, he was tutored by a local priest before entering the Seminary at Bergamo at the age of 12.
His religious studies were interrupted by a spell in the Italian army, but he was ordained in 1904. He served as secretary to the Bishop of Bergamo for nine years before becoming an army chaplain in World War One.
After the war Angelo worked in Bulgaria, Turkey and Greece on behalf of the church helping to locate and repatriate prisoners of war.
In 1944 he was appointed nuncio to Paris to help with the post war effort in France. He became Cardinal Patriarch of Venice in 1953 and probably expected to spend his last years serving the church there.
But when he was elected Pope by his fellow cardinals in the conclave of 20 October 1958, it was a turning point in the church’s history.
Although he was Pope for less than five years, John XXIII enlarged the College of Cardinals to make it more representative, consecrated 14 new bishops for Asia and Africa, advanced ecumenical relations and worked for world peace.
He is remembered as ‘il Papa Buono’, ‘the Good Pope’, and since his death on 3 June 1963, his birthplace, and the museum set up to commemorate his life, have become popular destinations for pilgrims.
There is a permanent reminder of Pope John in Bergamo’s lower town, where the main thoroughfare from the railway station to Porta Nuova has been renamed Viale Papa Giovanni XXIII. In the upper town, there are works by Pope John XXIII in the Biblioteca Civica, the white marble Civic Library, in Piazza Vecchia. The Seminary he attended is at the end of nearby Via Arena.
Pope John’s birthplace, which has now been renamed Sotto il Monte Giovanni XXIII, is a short bus or car journey to the west of Bergamo. You can visit the house where he was born in the hamlet of Brusicco. The summer residence at Camaitino, which he used when he was a cardinal, is now a history museum dedicated to him.

Opening hours: Casa Natale (birthplace) at Brusicco 8.30 am to 5.30 pm; Museo di Papa Giovanni (Pope John Museum) at Camaitino 8.30 am to 11.30 and 2.30 pm to 6.30.

See Best of Bergamo’s updated Flights Guide
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