A MAGICAL PLACE

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, January 23, 2023

Bergamo becomes Capital of Culture

Teatro Donizetti hosts televised launch show


Bergamo's mayor, Giorgio Gori, speaks to the audience at Teatro Donizetti
Bergamo's mayor, Giorgio Gori, speaks
to the audience at Teatro Donizetti
Bergamo has become the official Italian Capital of Culture for 2023 alongside another historic city in Lombardy, Brescia. 

To demonstrate that Bergamo and Brescia have joint status and are working in tandem, a sophisticated televised launch event was held at Teatro Donizetti in Bergamo on 20 January, linked to an inauguration ceremony taking place simultaneously 50km (31 miles) away at Teatro Grande in Brescia.

The programme switched alternately between the stages in Bergamo and Brescia, with Italian President Sergio Mattarella able to watch everything that took place on the stage at Teatro Donizetti from his front row seat in the theatre in Brescia.

Meanwhile, Italian culture minister Gennaro Sangiuliano was among the distinguished guests in Teatro Donizetti watching everything happening on stage in Brescia.

Bergamo and Brescia were awarded the joint culture capital honour in 2020 by the Italian Government, as ‘a symbol of hope and rebirth’ following the sadness caused by so many deaths during the Covid 19 pandemic, which had such a devastating effect on both cities.

The spectacular scene in the centre of Bergamo,  where 20,000 people gathered on Saturday evening
The spectacular scene in the centre of Bergamo, 
where 20,000 people gathered on Saturday evening

For the whole of this year, Bergamo and Brescia will become ‘a single city illuminata’, a united, enlightened city, which will host cultural events such as art exhibitions, music festivals and opera performances, contributing to economic prosperity and encouraging more visitors to the area.

As a taste of the delights to come, there was a performance from the stage in Brescia by a guitarist and violinist, and from Bergamo, by a soprano, accompanied by a pianist, who sang an aria from the opera Don Pasquale by Donizetti.

The Mayor of Bergamo, Giorgio Gori, said the year as Capital of Culture would be a fresh start for both cities and would showcase the natural beauty and artistic patrimony of the territories as well as the local cuisine and wine. He said: ‘Culture, as well as being an essential lever for attracting tourism, is vital for improving the life of our communities.’

The launch was followed on Saturday by a spectacular open-air show in the heart of the Città Bassa, entitled I Nuovi Mille, featuring singing, music, acting, dance and storytelling, in which professional artists were joined by a thousand citizens of Bergamo from the city and the province.

A firework display added to Saturday's festivities
A firework display added to
Saturday's festivities
Bergamo is known as the Città di Mille because of the large participation of Bergamo citizens in Garibaldi’s Spedizione dei Mille in his campaign to unite Italy in the 19th century.

The show, watched by a crowd of 20,000 people, was preceded by four simultaneous processions from different points in the city, each arriving at the Piazza Vittorio Veneto, the square beyond the propylaea of the Porta Nuova looking towards the Città Alta, for a 50-minute performance followed by an open-air party lasting until midnight.

At the opposite end of the Viale Papa Giovanni XXIII, in the Piazzale Marconi in front of the railway station, another extraordinary show, featuring  lights, projections, music, acrobats and fireworks, added to the spectacle.

Next month, Bergamo will become an open air art gallery, with a host of events featuring national and international artists taking place in the city.

There are hundreds of other events as well as cultural and educational initiatives planned for both Bergamo and Brescia throughout 2023.




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Sunday, December 25, 2022

Bergamo sparkles even more at Christmas

Bergamo's streets sparkle even more with Christmas lights
Bergamo's streets sparkle even more
with Christmas lights
Thousands of twinkling lights, colourfully decorated Christmas trees and lovingly recreated nativity scenes, known in Italian as presepi, make Bergamo an even more magical city  at Christmas.

And if you are a food lover, Bergamo is a good place to visit during the festive season because the focus is firmly on the feasting in the city’s restaurants.

On la Vigilia di Natale (Christmas Eve), a fish meal is traditionally consumed by Italians, consisting of several different courses, after which any adults who are still able to move may go to midnight mass.

But on Natale (Christmas Day) it is the time for the serious feasting to start. Some of the bars and restaurants will be open to serve church goers after the morning service and many families choose to go to a restaurant for their Christmas lunch. Booking in advance is essential, with restaurants taking names and contact numbers months in advance.

If you go to a Christmas feast in a friend’s home, the meal will begin with an antipasto course, which is likely to include Parma ham or bresaola - dried, salted beef - with preserved mushrooms, olives, and pickled vegetables.

Panettone is a traditional part of the Christmas table for families across Italy
Panettone is a traditional part of the Christmas
table for families across Italy
Stuffed pasta is usually served as a primo piatto - first course - either in the shape of ravioli or tortellini. This shape of pasta is said to have been inspired by a beautiful woman who was staying at an inn in the region of Emilia Romagna. The innkeeper is reputed to have tried to spy on her through a keyhole but all he could see was her navel.

Tortellini in brodo, traditionally served in capon broth, is a classic Christmas day dish and for the main course, turkey or capon is likely to be served with potatoes and vegetables as side dishes.

The traditional end to the meal is almost always panettone, served warm, accompanied by a glass of sparkling wine.

Italian folklore has it that panettone was concocted by a Milanese baker, Antonio (Toni), to impress his girlfriend one Christmas in the 15th century. The result was so successful that ‘Pane de Toni’ has become a regular feature of the Christmas season all over Italy and now even abroad.

The feasting and family parties continue on 26 December, the festa di Santo Stefano (Boxing Day).

A Happy Christmas and Buon Natale to all my readers!


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Tuesday, December 13, 2022

Enrico Rastelli – ‘the greatest juggler who ever lived’

The house in Via Giuseppe Garibaldi that Enrico Rastelli had built for his family
The house in Via Giuseppe Garibaldi that
Enrico Rastelli had built for his family
If you happen to be walking along Via Giuseppe Garibaldi in the Città Bassa, pause for a moment outside No 9.

Behind the elaborate wrought iron railings is a beautiful villa built in Stile Liberty, the Italian twist on Art Nouveau that was popular among architects in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

There are plenty of other examples of the style in Bergamo’s lower town but No 9 Via Giuseppe Garibaldi, nextdoor to the Conad supermarket on the section between Via Sant’Alessandro and Via Sant’Antonino, has a special story.

It was built for Enrico Rastelli, who is thought to have been the greatest juggler that ever lived.

Rastelli had been born in Russia in 1896, into a circus family originally from the Bergamo area. Both his parents were performers and trained him in circus disciplines including acrobatics, balancing, and aerial skills. He made his debut at the age of 13 as part of his parents’ aerial act.

Rastelli specialised in working
with sticks and balls
His real love, though, was juggling and he practised his skills constantly until he was able to achieve levels of technical brilliance beyond those of any of his contemporaries. By the age of 19, his juggling act was a big draw in itself.

While many jugglers at the time would throw and catch plates, hats, and canes, Rastelli restricted himself to working with balls and sticks in the Japanese style, outperforming any other juggler of his time.

By the 1920s he had become a star, touring Europe and America, amazing audiences with his skill and amassing large earnings.

Eventually he made the move to performing in vaudeville shows in theatres where he would appear in full football strip and juggle up to five footballs at a time.

In 1917, Rastelli married Harriet Price, a highwire artist, and they had three children. They frequently toured Europe with his act and his villa in Via Giuseppe Garibaldi became their permanent home in Italy.

Tragically, Rastelli’s life was cut short by illness and he passed away 109 years ago today, at the age of just 34.

A full-size statue stands in front of the Rastelli tomb
A full-size statue stands in
front of the Rastelli tomb
He contracted pneumonia while on tour in Europe and though he was able to return to his home in Bergamo to convalesce, his condition worsened and he died in the early hours of the morning of 13 December of anaemia. 

When his funeral took place in Bergamo, it was attended by thousands of people. He was buried in the Cimitero Monumentale in Bergamo and a life-sized statue of him was erected at his tomb, showing him spinning a ball on his raised finger.

The February 1932 edition of Vanity Fair magazine included a full-page photograph of Rastelli, captioned: ‘One of the most sensational attractions in the international world of vaudeville.’ The magazine said Rastelli had elevated juggling to an art, ‘due not only to the amazing agility and complexity of the juggling itself,’ but also ‘to the incredible ease of his execution, and the visual impression made on the audience.’

The Juggling Hall of Fame website says Rastelli was ‘the most famous and in the opinion of many, the greatest juggler who ever lived.’ They say that as well as his work with large balls, he could also juggle up to ten small balls, which is generally considered to be the record. 


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Monday, October 24, 2022

PolentOne - the taste of Bergamo in a bowl

Journalist Jeremy Culley urges visitors not to miss a wonderful chance to enjoy a Bergamo speciality as soon as they arrive in the Città Alta

PolentOne's stall is tucked away under an archway opposite the funicular station
PolentOne's stall is tucked away under
an archway opposite the funicular station
Uninspiring and dingy takeaways often greet you when you arrive in a town or city by train but that is not the case when you emerge from the funicular station into Bergamo’s wonderful Città Alta.

Here, the first food outlet you see is an unassuming stall built under an archway leading from the Piazza Mercato delle Scarpe up some steps to the Piazzetta Luigi Angelini, directly opposite the entrance to the station.

PolentOne provides an immediate introduction to cucina bergamasca  and is about as far a cry from the ubiquitous kebab shop as is possible to imagine. 

As the name suggests, PolentOne’s menu is dominated by polenta, with its versions heralded as the best in the city. Aside from a few panini filled with local meats and cheeses, almost all dishes feature the local cornmeal and buckwheat staple. 

The owners clearly have a sense of humour, too. Polentone - meaning polenta-eater - is a term some southern Italians use to describe northerners, and not necessarily in a complimentary way!

PolentOne's dishes follow a simple format - a choice of bramata (plain) or taragna (made with cheese) polenta topped with a range of delicious local specialities.

After a morning’s sight-seeing in the Città Alta, PolentOne is the ideal spot to rest your feet for a quick, tasty and good-value lunch. 

My wife and I both opted for the delicious polenta taranga, usually made with Branzi or other Alpine cheeses. I picked the salamella (local salsiccia) as a topping and my wife, the ragù cinghiale (wild boar sauce), each costing just seven euros.

Polenta served with ragù cinghiale 
(top) and the local
salamella sausage
For very little extra you can add a bottle of Peroni and a glass of white wine before pulling up a pew at one of the tables to wait for your counter to buzz signifying your food is ready.

The aromas emanating from the kitchen make the wait seem long but in reality it is only five minutes or so. You are presented with steaming hot bowls of polenta taragna. The grilled salsiccia was worthy of a restaurant, while the ragù tasted like it had been simmering for hours despite being served in the time it took to have two sips of wine.

It is a perfect warming lunch - a taste of Bergamo in a bowl for the cost of a drink at a bar. 

The next time you arrive in the Città Alta by funicular do not make the mistake of writing off PolentOne as ‘just another station takeaway’. To do so would be a great disservice to a food outlet serving what must be the best polenta in Bergamo.


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Monday, October 17, 2022

The founding of Atalanta football club

Bergamo institution launched by high school students


The club badge with
the image of Atalanta
Atalanta - Bergamo’s premier football club - was founded 115 years ago today, on October 17, 1907.

The club was the idea of a group of students from the Liceo Classico Paolo Sarpi, one of the city’s oldest and most prestigious high schools, which can be found off Via Arena in the Città Alta.

Football was just one activity that came under the umbrella of the Società Bergamasca di Ginnastica e Sports Atletici Atalanta - the Bergamasca Society of Gymnastics and Athletic Sports - to which they attached the name Atalanta after the Greek mythological heroine famous for her running prowess.

Soon, football was the dominant sport, although for the first seven years of its life, the new club had no home and played friendly matches on whatever open space was available. In 1914 they did find a home ground in Via Maglio del Lotto, adjoining the railway line just outside Bergamo station.

The ground had a small grandstand housing 1,000 spectators. It is said that the drivers of trains approaching the station would slow down in order to enjoy a few moments of the action.

In the event, after Italy was drawn into World War One, the club remained in Via Maglio del Lotto for only two seasons. With so many young men going off to fight, the club suspended its activities and sold the ground.

Atalanta's 1913-14 team, which played at a stadium near Bergamo's railway station
Atalanta's 1913-14 team, which played at a
stadium near Bergamo's railway station
When the club was reconstituted before the start of the 2019-20 season, they established a new home, named the Clementina Stadium, on the site of a former racecourse to the southeast of the city centre.

By that point, club members were eager to join the Italian Football Federation (FIGC) and compete in their league but Bergamo had another team with similar ambitions, called Bergamasca, which had evolved from a club started by Swiss emigrants in 1904.

The FIGC would allow only one team from Bergamo to compete in their Prima Categoria, as their first division was then called. To decide which of them would represent the city, in 1919 a play-off was arranged, which Atalanta won 2-0.

In the event, the two clubs agreed to merge in 1920, forming a new club which at first was called Atalanta Bergamasca di Ginnastica e Scherma 1907, scherma being fencing. It was soon shortened to Atalanta Bergamasca Calcio, which remains its name today. 

The club now plays at the Gewiss Stadium on Viale Giulio Cesare in the northeast of the city, a short walk from the centre of the Città Bassa - the lower city - and visible in the panoramic view available from vantage points on the eastern side of the Città Alta.

The stadium has been their home since 1928. It was built during the Fascist era at a cost of 3.5 million lira and originally named Stadio Mario Brumana after a Fascist official, which was common practice with public buildings at the time.

Bergamo's 94-year-old stadium was given an impressive facelift with the Gewiss sponsorship
Bergamo's 94-year-old stadium was given an
impressive facelift with the Gewiss sponsorship
After the Fascist regime was overthrown in World War Two, the ground was renamed Stadio Communale and gradually expanded to allow more than 40,000 spectators to attend matches. It became the Stadio Atleti Azzurri d'Italia in 1994 and in 2019 adopted the Gewiss name after the club signed a sponsorship deal with the Swiss electronics company.

At the same time as Atalanta moved into the ground in 1928, the Italian championship was restructured with the top division renamed Serie A, as it is today.

Atalanta were initially placed in Serie B but within a decade had been promoted to Serie A. 

Atalanta have never won the Serie A, yet have the proud record of having spent 62 seasons in the top division, 28 in Serie B and only one in Serie C, which is the best record of any team not based in a regional capital.

The current team, managed since 2016 by Gian Piero Gasperini, are enjoying one of the most successful spells in the club’s history, having qualified for the Champions League three seasons in a row and twice reached the final of the Coppa Italia.


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Monday, October 10, 2022

Risotto alla Bergamasca

Cook this warming Bergamo speciality at home


My version of risotto alla bergamasca, made from ingredients you can buy at home
My version of risotto alla bergamasca, made
from ingredients you can buy at home
After an autumn walk amid the falling leaves along the Via delle Mura surrounding the Città Alta, what could be more welcome than a piping hot risotto in one of the restaurants in the upper town serving Bergamo specialities.

Over the years, I have enjoyed many different, delicious risotto dishes while on holiday in Bergamo. Rice, cooked and stirred with broth until it reaches a creamy consistency, is a classic of northern Italian cooking.

They can be incredibly simple dishes, but are delicious, even if they just contain onion, short grain rice, wine, chicken or vegetable stock, and parmigiano cheese. Add beef marrow to the mix and dissolve saffron in the stock and you have the famous risotto alla milanese, which dates back to the beginning of the 19th century.

I once discovered a recipe for a risotto made with onion, carrots, peas and zucchini that claimed to be risotto alla bergamasca and I featured it on this website in 2011.

But coincidentally, in 2010, the year before my post, Bergamo chef, restaurateur and hotelier Pino Capozzi had given to his beloved city something that Milan had been enjoying for 200 years - a risotto that they could call truly their own.

Most of the major supermarket chains stock Taleggio among their continental cheeses
Most of the major supermarket chains stock
Taleggio among their continental cheeses
In his recipe for risotto alla bergamasca, the star ingredients were local sausage - la salsiccia - or, in dialect, la loanghina - and Taleggio cheese. The wine poured on to the toasted grains of rice was, of course, my own personal favourite, Valcalepio Bianco.

Just as they had polenta alla bergamasca and casoncelli alla bergamasca, the proud city now had risotto alla bergamasca.

The recipe aimed to showcase the products that Bergamo is justifiably proud of: loanghina, the local sausage, Taleggio cheese, and Valcalepio Bianco wine. It was flavoured by the herb that you always see scattered on casoncelli - sometimes called casonsei - fresh sage.

The challenge for a fan of cucina bergamasca living in England, such as myself, was how to replicate the authentic flavours when trying out the recipe at home.

Taleggio cheese is sold by several of the major supermarket chains - mine came from Asda - and through research I discovered that Cumberland sausage was made to a recipe similar to that of loanghina. I also found that Pinot Grigio used some of the same grape varieties as Valcalepio Bianco. (Of course, I know Pinot Grigio doesn’t taste nearly as good, but sadly Valcalepio Bianco isn’t widely available in the UK!)

Valcalepio Bianco is the local white wine in Bergamo
Valcalepio Bianco is the
local white wine in Bergamo
Here then, is my anglicised version of Risotto alla Bergamasca for two people:

Ingredients:

150 grams of risotto rice - Arborio or Carnaroli

40 grams of butter

100 grams of fresh Cumberland pork sausage, removed from its skin and formed into small balls

60 grams of Taleggio cheese cubed

a litre of vegetable or chicken broth

half a glass of white wine

a shallot

sage leaves

black pepper.

Method:

Fry the shallot in half of the butter in a large saucepan with a couple of sage leaves. When the shallot has softened and started to turn gold, remove the sage and add the sausage and fry for a couple of minutes. Then add the rice and toast it in the butter for a few minutes before pouring in the glass of white wine.

When the wine has evaporated, continue to cook the rice, while adding ladles of the hot broth.  When the rice has reached the perfect consistency, remove the pan from the heat and add the rest of the butter, a pinch of ground black pepper and the cubes of Taleggio. Serve on hot plates.

Buon appetito dall'Inghilterra!




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Sunday, September 18, 2022

Visit Bergamo’s Civic Archaeology Museum

Civico Museo Archeologico di Bergamo

The Museum is housed in a 14th century palace in Piazza della Cittadella
The museum is housed in a 14th century
palace in Piazza della Cittadella
You can travel in the footsteps of the Celts, Romans and Longobards who built Bergamo by visiting the Civic Archaeology Museum to see the wealth of artefacts that have been uncovered over the centuries in the city and the surrounding area.

Items dating back to the Neolithic period in prehistoric times reveal Bergamo’s ancient origins. Stone axes, iron swords, Celtic bronze ornaments and Longobard gold crosses are among the items on display in the museum. Bergamo’s Roman period is particularly well represented with a wealth of sculptures, inscriptions, tomb stones and funerary items.

The Civic Archaeology Museum is now housed in a 14th century palace in Piazza della Cittadella in the Città Alta, but its collection dates back as far as 1561, when Bergamo’s Great Council established ‘a collection of antiquities’ for people to view in the loggia under Palazzo della Ragione in Piazza Vecchia in the Città Alta.

The original display of artefacts has increased hugely over the centuries thanks to the many valuable items that have been unearthed locally and donated to the collection and the museum has had to move to many different locations in the city as it kept requiring more space.

The museum has collections of artefacts from many periods of history unearthed locally
The museum has collections of artefacts from
many periods of history unearthed locally
A special publication registering the most notable archaeological discoveries in the care of the museum was published in 1900 by Professor Gaetano Mantovani. All the important finds were gathered together in the 1930s and given a home in the Rocca fortress, where they were kept safe during World War II.

The collection was moved in 1960 to its present location, where it now occupies the ground floor of a palace built in the 14th century by the Visconti family. Milan’s ancient rulers, in Piazza Cittadella.

There are rooms displaying prehistoric, bronze age, Iron age, gallic and Longobard items. There is plenty of evidence from the Roman period in Bergamo, with an important collection of funerary epigraphs from the area. There are rooms devoted to the city’s history from the early urban settlement of the fifth century BC to the Roman city becoming a municipium in the age of Caesar- Augustus. Artefacts from the Longobard duchy in the early Middle Ages include fascinating examples of the pieces of armour worn by soldiers at the time.

The museum is open between October and December from 9.00 to 13.00 and 14.00 to 17.00 Thursday and Friday and from 10.00 to 13.00 and 14.00 to 17.30 on Saturday and Sunday.

The entrance ticket is three euros and the ticket is also valid for entry to the Natural Science Museum, also in Piazza della Cittadella. 


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