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.

Thursday, May 13, 2021

Atalanta close in on second place in Serie A table

Atalanta's fortunes have been transformed under Gasperini
Atalanta's fortunes have been
transformed under Gasperini
Bergamo’s high-flying football team, Atalanta, need to pick up just one more win from their last two Serie A matches to qualify for the Champions League for the third consecutive season.

Atalanta - whose nicknames include i Nerazzurri (the black and blues) and La Dea (the Goddess) - consolidated their hold on second place in the table with a 2-0 win over struggling Benevento at the Gewiss Stadium on Wednesday.

Their goals came from top scorer Luis Muriel and Mario Pasalic.

Their final two matches are away to Genoa on Saturday before they take on AC Milan in the final game of the season, again at the Gewiss Stadium in the Città Bassa.  The title is already won by Inter-Milan.

In the middle, they have the small matter of the Coppa Italia final against Juventus to think about after another exceptional season. Were they to finish second, it would be the highest final place in the club's history.

Playing an exciting style of attacking football, Atalanta have been the surprise package of the last few seasons in Italian football.

Since the 1970s, Atalanta have been promoted from Serie B nine times and relegated from Serie A nine times.  They rarely finished in the top half of the Serie A table but since the appointment of former Genoa coach Gian Piero Gasperini to look after the team in 2016 La Dea have enjoyed consistent improvement.

Atalanta's top striker, the Colombian Luis Muriel
Atalanta's top striker, the
Colombian Luis Muriel
They have finished in the top four of Serie A in three of the last four seasons, qualifying for the Champions League for the last two years by finishing in third place.

They qualified for the knock-out phase of the European competition each time, reaching the quarter-finals two years ago.

They also reached the final of the Coppa Italia for the first time in 23 years in 2019, losing to Lazio.

Yet it remains the case that the 1962-63 Coppa Italia, when the defeated Torino in the final, is the only major trophy in the club’s 114-year history.

It something Gasperini had in mind after the win over Benevento when he told reporters his team “have done nothing yet”, warning that they should take nothing for granted. 

“We are responsible for our own destiny. We must keep our feet grounded because we’ve done nothing yet," he said.

Atalanta is named after  a Greek goddess
Atalanta is named after 
a Greek goddess
“We have two league games and the Coppa Italia final. We have played many matches, but the strength of this team is to take one step at a time.

“We are fighting, we are in the race with Milan, Napoli and Juventus for a top-four finish in Serie A, and only one won’t reach the target. Anything can still happen.”

Like most teams at the top level in Italy, the Atalanta team is a multi-national group. 

Their defence regularly includes two Argentinians, a German and an Albanian.

The midfield stars are a Swiss, a Dutchman and a Ukrainian, while their two best strikers, Muriel and Duván Zapata, are both Colombian internationals.

The home-grown players who have featured most often this season are goalkeepers Pierluigi Gollini and Marco Sportiello, defender Rafael Tolói - Brazilian-born but an Italian national - and midfielder Matteo Pessina.

Atalanta play their home matches at the expanded Gewiss Stadium in the Città Bassa
Atalanta play their home matches at the
expanded Gewiss Stadium in the Città Bassa
Atalanta’s brand of free-flowing attack-minded football has thrilled audiences and made them Italy’s highest goalscorers for each of the last three seasons. Last year, they totalled 98 in Serie A, the highest tally by any team for more than 70 years.

This season they have found the net 86 times in Serie A, of which Muriel has 22, level with Inter-Milan’s Romelu Lukaku and behind only Cristiano Ronaldo of Juventus (28) among the leading individual goalscorers.

Atalanta’s nickname of La Dea stems from the club’s creation in 1907 by students of the Liceo Classico Paolo Sarpi, the important high school in Bergamo, who named the club after the female athlete of the same name in Greek mythology, who had the status of goddess in her own region.

The club’s badge contains the profile of a woman with flowing hair, representing the mythological Atalanta.


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Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Bergamo curiosities, clocks and curfews

Look out for some of the quaint architectural features of the Città Alta

A set of stone gargoyles on the wall above Palazzo della Ragione's covered staircase
A set of stone gargoyles on the wall above
Palazzo della Ragione's covered staircase

Bergamo’s upper town, the Città Alta, is full of medieval buildings, towers and houses and many of them have unusual, quaint architectural features, so it’s worth taking your time when you are walking round to see what you can spot.

The faded frescoes you will see are indications that the outsides of buildings would have been much more colourful hundreds of years ago than they are today. But it is worth looking at the frescoes to try to see what the artist painted. If there is a portion missing, let your imagination fill it in so that you can understand what it would have been like in its heyday. Good places for fresco spotting are Piazza Mascheroni, Piazza Cittadella and Via Porta Dipinta.

There are grotesque stone carvings on many of the medieval buildings in the Città Alta that would have meant something to the stone mason responsible for adding them hundreds of years ago.

The bells in the Campanone still chime 100 times at 10pm each night
The bells in the Campanone still
chime at 10pm each night

Of particular interest are the set of stone gargoyles on the wall to your right as you start to climb the 16th century covered staircase that leads to the first floor of Palazzo della Ragione, known as the Hall of the Capriate. These were taken centuries ago from a funeral monument in the former convent of San Francesco.

The paved area at ground floor level can be accessed from both sides through the porticos. It is usually empty these days but in the past has been used as an open civil and criminal court, where the prisoner had to sit on a white stone seat, and also as a place for people to watch puppet shows. These were popular with adults as well as children because they enjoyed the clever lampooning of local dignitaries and political situations of the day by the puppeteers.

Inside the porticos under Palazzo della Ragione, if you look at the paving, you will see white marble slabs among the grey with engraved ellipses. This is a sundial, or solar clock, designed by Giovanni Albrici in 1798, which points north and indicates the passage of the sun through the meridian, at 12 noon.

The Meridiana Monumentale sundial is a particular curiosity
The Meridiana Monumentale sundial
is a particular curiosity
Like most things in Bergamo it has been well preserved. In 1982 restoration work was carried out on it and the mechanism was modified to enable the date to be shown as well.

When the sun shines, as it often does in Bergamo, it passes through a small hole in a metal plate attached to one of the arches and as it shines into the porticoes you can see what time it is.

The enormous Campanone (big bell tower) on the other side of the piazza also helps visitors to Bergamo to tell the time. It comes into its own at 10pm every evening when it chimes more than 100 times to remind people still outside the Città Alta of the curfew and give them chance to get back through one of the gates, or otherwise be locked out for the night.

They don’t lock the gates of the Città Alta any more, but have maintained the tradition of sounding more than 100 chimes at 10pm.



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Sunday, February 28, 2021

Trattoria Tre Torri Bergamo

Enjoy dining out in a truly medieval atmosphere

Trattoria Tre Torri is housed inside a medieval tower
Trattoria Tre Torri is housed inside
a medieval tower
Have you ever wondered what it must have been like to live in a medieval tower in Bergamo’s Città Alta?

Well, you can easily sample the medieval atmosphere for just a couple of hours by having lunch or dinner at Trattoria Tre Torri in Piazza Mercato del Fieno in the Città Alta. The square is just off Via Gombito to the right, almost opposite the enormous Torre Gombito. It was once the site of the Città Alta’s hay market and the piazza is still bordered by three medieval tower houses, which have been cut down from their former heights but are still the original structures.

One of the houses, which used to be owned by Bergamo’s rich and powerful Suardi family, has a pretty little balcony under a double arched mullioned window.

Another tower on the square, opposite the three adjoining towers, houses the Trattoria Tre Torri, which serves good quality local food at reasonable prices. There are some tables for two but you can also sit at large wooden tables with benches if you are a larger party.

The original stone has been left exposed on the inside walls. One night when I went there for dinner with my family it was raining heavily outside and we were amused to notice the rain running down the walls inside, but we still felt very warm and cosy and enjoyed the meal.

The three adjoining towers on the square were once much taller
The three adjoining towers on the square
were once much taller
The staff are very friendly and the menu has many traditional Bergamo dishes to try, such as casoncelli alla bergamasca - a kind of ravioli - stinco al forno - pork shank - and dishes with the local type of polenta. They stock local Bergamo wines and also serve a good house wine.

There is all the atmosphere you would expect to experience when dining in a genuine medieval tower and there are also tables outside under an awning for dining during the summer. 

Piazza Mercato del Fieno is where the Città Alta’s post office is located and it also has some shops and bars. It is a good place to stand to take a photograph of the Gombito tower, which looms high above Via Gombito. The square is on higher ground and is sufficiently far away to enable you to capture a shot that includes the top of the tower.

Trattoria Tre Torri is located at Piazzo Mercato del Fieno 7.


The original medieval brickwork is a feature of Trattoria Tre Torri's cosy interior
The original medieval brickwork is a feature of Trattoria Tre Torri's cosy interior


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Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Giacomo Quarenghi – Bergamo architect

Neoclassicist was famous for his work in Russia

Giacomo Quarenghi was born in a village not far from Lecco
Giacomo Quarenghi was born
in a village not far from Lecco
The architect Giacomo Antonio Domenico Quarenghi, known for his work in Italy and in St Petersburg in Russia in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, was born in 1744 in Rota d’Imagna, a village in Lombardy about 25km (16 miles) northwest of Bergamo, near the lakeside town of Lecco.

Quarenghi’s simple, yet imposing, Neoclassical buildings, which often featured an elegant central portico with pillars and pediment, were inspired by the work of the architect, Andrea Palladio.

As a young man, Quarenghi was allowed to study painting in Bergamo despite his parents’ hopes that he would follow a career in law or the church. He travelled widely through Italy, staying in Vicenza, Verona, Mantua and Venice in the north and venturing south to make drawings of the Greek temples at Paestum before arriving in Rome in 1763. His first focus was on painting, but he was later introduced to architecture by Paolo Posi.

His biggest inspiration came from reading Andrea Palladio's Quattro Libri d'archittetura, after which he moved away from painting to concentrate on the design of buildings.

He returned to Venice to study Palladio and came to meet a British peer who was passing through Venice on the Grand Tour. It was through him that Quarenghi was commissioned to work in England, where his projects included an altar for the private Roman Catholic chapel of Henry Arundell at New Wardour Castle.

His first major commission in Italy (1771–7) was for the internal reconstruction of the monastery of Santa Scholastica at Subiaco, just outside Rome, where he was also asked to design a decor for a Music Room in the Campidoglio. He drew up designs for the tomb of Pope Clement XIII, but these were later executed by Antonio Canova.

The Russian Academy of Science is based at one of Quarenghi's St Petersburg palaces
The Russian Academy of Science is based at
one of Quarenghi's St Petersburg palaces
In 1779 he was selected by the Prussian-born Count Rieffenstein, who had been commissioned by Catherine II, also known as Catherine the Great, to send her two Italian architects.  Quarenghi, then 35, was finding it hard to generate enough work amid fierce competition in Italy, so he accepted the offer without hesitation, leaving immediately for St Petersburg, taking his pregnant wife with him.

Quarenghi's first important commission in Russia was the magnificent English Palace in Peterhof, just outside St Petersburg, which sadly was blown up by the Germans during World War II and was later demolished by the Soviet government.

In 1783 Quarenghi settled with his family in Tsarskoe Selo, the town which was the former seat of the Russian royal family, where he would supervise the construction of the Alexander Palace.

Soon afterwards, he was appointed Catherine II's court architect and went on to produce a large number of designs for the Empress and her successors and members of her court, as well as interior decorations and elaborate ornate gardens.

His extensive work in St Petersburg between 1782 and 1816 included the Hermitage Theatre, one of the first buildings in Russia in the Palladian style, the Bourse and the State Bank, St. George’s Hall in the Winter Palace (1786–95), several bridges on the Neva, and a number of academic structures including the Academy of Sciences, on the University Embankment.

Rota d'Imagna is a beautiful village in the Lombardy countryside 25km from Bergamo
Rota d'Imagna is a beautiful village in the
Lombardy countryside 25km from Bergamo
Quarenghi’s design for the Hermitage Theatre in St Petersburg was heavily influenced by his visit to the Teatro Olimpico in Vicenza as he toured Italy as a young man. The theatre, constructed between 1580 and 1585, was the final design by Andrea Palladio and was not completed until after his death. The trompe-l'œil onstage scenery, designed by Vincenzo Scamozzi, gives the appearance of long streets receding to a distant horizon. The theatre is one of only three Renaissance theatres still in existence.

His work outside St Petersburg included a cathedral in Ukraine and among his buildings in Moscow were a theatre hall in the Ostankino Palace. He was also responsible for the reconstruction of some buildings around Red Square in Moscow in neo-Palladian style.

He obviously never forgot his northern Italian roots because he showed his appreciation for Catherine II’s patronage by giving her a case of Bergamo’s prestigious wine, Moscato di Scanzo.

The grapes for this rich, ruby red wine are grown in vineyards in a small, area of countryside just outside Bergamo, land that is about 31 hectares wide only. This is the only territory where the grapes can be grown for Moscato di Scanzo.

A wine that has earned the title Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG), the highest grade given to a wine in Italy, Moscato di Scanzo is made from grapes harvested solely from the fields around Scanzorosciate, a town about six kilometres (four miles) to the northeast of Bergamo in the foothills of the southern Alps.

The Biblioteca Angelo Mai in Bergamo has a collection of Quarenghi's designs
The Biblioteca Angelo Mai in Bergamo has
a collection of Quarenghi's designs
But Quarenghi was less popular with Catherine II’s son and successor, the Emperor Paul, although he enjoyed a resurgence of popularity under Alexander I. When the famous architect returned to Italy from time to time he always received an enthusiastic welcome.

Quarenghi retired in 1808 but remained in Russia, even though most of his 13 children by his two wives chose to return to Italy.

He was granted Russian nobility and the Order of St. Vladimir of the First Degree in 1814. He died in Saint Petersburg at the age of 72.

Rota d’Imagna, Quarenghi’s birthplace, is situated in the Imagna Valley, a popular tourist spot because of its largely unspoilt landscape and spectacular mountain views, with many visitors attracted to trekking, mountain walks and horse riding. In the village itself, the Church of Rota Fuori, dedicated to San Siro, which was built in 1496 and restructured in 1765, has art works of significance by Gaetano Peverada, Pier Francesco Mazzucchelli and Carlo Ceresa.  Quarenghi’s home was Ca’ Piatone, a palace built in the 17th century.

Bergamo remembered him by naming a street Via Giacomo Quarenghi in the Citta Bassa. Also, in 2017 the city marked the 200th anniversary of his death with a programme of events to honour him.

In Piazza Vecchia in the Città Alta, the library, La Biblioteca Civica Angelo Mai, has a collection of 750 architectural designs by Giacomo Quarenghi. These are available to the public on a DVD with texts in Italian or in English.



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Thursday, January 21, 2021

Enrico Caffi Natural Sciences Museum

Bergamo takes pride in museum’s amazing collection

Bergamo is well known for its art treasures and musical heritage but perhaps not widely recognised as a centre for science.

The Museo Civico Scienze Naturali Enrico Caffi is in Piazza Cittadella
The Museo Civico Scienze Naturali Enrico
Caffi is in Piazza Cittadella
However, in the historic upper town, the Città Alta, there is a prestigious natural history museum with thousands of fascinating artefacts for visitors to see.

The Museo Civico Scienze Naturali Enrico Caffi (The Civic Museum of Natural Sciences Enrico Caffi) is in Piazza Cittadella, a square close to Colle Aperto and Porta Sant’Alessandro.

A reproduction of a huge mammoth greets customers in the entrance hall. Inside the museum, exhibits are divided into the categories of zoology, entomology, geology and palaeontology.

There are examples of all five classes of vertebrates, along with a collection of anthropods.

The museum’s origins date back to the end of the 19th century when exhibitions were held during public holidays of the artefacts from the Royal Technical Institute Vittorio Emanuele II.

Dottore Enrico Caffi was the museum's first director
Dottore Enrico Caffi was the
museum's first director
In 1918, the museum moved to Piazza Vecchia in the Città Alta and in 1920, Dottore Enrico Caffi was appointed as the first director of the museum and organised the cataloguing of all items in the museum’s collection. Caffi was an expert on the Parco delle Orobie outside Bergamo and devoted his time to studying the flora and fauna. He left a large quantity of manuscripts with scientific articles about his findings and maps of the territory.

Under successive professors the museum was expanded and studies were made of Lago Endine and the Brembo and Serio rivers.

In 1969, the museum moved to its present headquarters in Piazza Cittadella. Four years later, a fossil of the oldest known flying creature was found in Seriana valley. The creature, who lived more than two million years ago, was described for the very first time by Rocco Zambelli, who was responsible for the paleontology section of the museum.

The museum now has laboratories for educational purposes and a sensory path with Braille captions for blind visitors.

In normal times the Natural Sciences Museum is open from Tuesday to Sunday, but it has temporarily closed due to Covid 19. Visit www.museoscienzebergamo.it for more information.

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Friday, January 1, 2021

Capodanno in Italy

Toasting the New Year the Italian way


New Year’s Day is called Capodanno in Italy, which literally means ‘head of the year’.

It is a public holiday and schools, Government offices, post offices and banks are closed.

After a late start following the New Year’s Eve festivities, many families will enjoy another traditional feast together. This year is obviously different, with the option of booking a restaurant for a big family meal off the agenda because of Covid-19 restrictions.

It is still possible to attend church services - another tradition before the festive meal - but anyone leaving their home under the current lockdown measures has to fill in a certificate before venturing out with police entitled to check their purpose is legitimate.  As well as going to places of worship, Italians can leave their homes only for essential shopping or to seek healthcare.

Italy is in what has been determined as 'red zone' restrictions, much like those imposed in March last year after the first outbreak of the virus. The measures will be eased for one day on 4 January, allowing non-essential shops to reopen, but are due to be re-imposed on 5 January ahead of another traditional celebration, the Feast of Epiphany.

Rai Uno traditionally broadcasts a New Year’s Day concert live. This year it came from Teatro La Fenice, the famous opera house in Venice.

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Thursday, December 31, 2020

Festa di San Silvestro - the Feast of Saint Sylvester

Celebrate with a meal of pork and lentils for a prosperous New Year


Firework displays are a traditional part of  New Year's Eve celebrations in Italy
Firework displays are a traditional part of 
New Year's Eve celebrations in Italy
New Year’s Eve in Italy is known as the Festa di San Silvestro in memory of Pope Sylvester I who died on 31 December in 335 Rome.

It is not a public holiday in Italy but it is usually a festive time everywhere, with firework displays, concerts and parties. This year, however, the celebrations have had to be drastically curtailed because of Covid-19 restrictions.

A curfew is in place across the whole of Italy from 10pm until 7am, so the gatherings that normally take place in the piazze - the public squares - cannot go ahead.

The bars and restaurants in Bergamo are normally busy with residents and visitors enjoying drinks and meals before seeing in the New Year in the main square, Piazza Vecchia in the upper town or one of the large open spaces in Città Bassa, when the church bells ring out at midnight.

TV station Rai Uno’s traditional New Year’s Eve variety concert is usually an outdoor affair, with a different town or city each year chosen as the venue, with the audience packed together in front of a stage erected in the main square to watch some of Italy’s favourite performers in an entertainment extravaganza spanning more than three hours, culminating in a New Year countdown at midnight.

Crowds normally gather in the Piazza Vecchia in Bergamo's Città Alta to see in the New Year
Crowds normally gather in the Piazza Vecchia
in Bergamo's Città Alta to see in the New Year
The show, entitled L’anno che verrà - The Coming Year - will go ahead as usual, but this time the artists will be confined to a TV studio and Italians will have to be content with watching at home.

The restrictions ought not to hamper a tradition still followed in some parts of Italy, particularly in the south, of throwing your old things out of the window at midnight to symbolise your readiness to accept the New Year.

Likewise, families can still enjoy a Capodanno - New Year - feast, even if the numbers round the family table are fewer.

Popular menu items at New Year include cotechino (Italian sausage), zampone (stuffed pig’s trotter) and lenticchie (lentils).

Rai's popular New Year's Eve show L'anno che verrà is scaled down this year
Rai's popular New Year's Eve show L'anno
che verrà
is scaled down this year
Pork is said to represent the fullness or richness of life, while lentils are supposed to symbolise wealth or money. Many Italians believe the coming year could bring prosperity if these foods are eaten on New Year’s Eve. 

The President of the Republic delivers an end of year message from the Quirinale in Rome, which is shown on most Italian television channels during the evening. 

Sylvester I was pope from 314 until his death in 335, an important time in the history of the Catholic Church.

Some of Rome’s great churches, the Basilica of St John Lateran, the Basilica of the Holy Cross in Jerusalem and the old St Peter’s Basilica, were founded during his pontificate.

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