Via Colleoni is one of the main streets in the Città Alta (upper town) and the Cappella Colleoni (Colleoni Chapel) in Piazza Duomo is one of Bergamo’s finest buildings. There is also a Ristorante Colleoni e dell’ Angelo in Piazza Vecchia and a Caffe del Colleoni in the Città Bassa (lower town).
All are named in honour of an influential man in Bergamo’s history, Bartolomeo Colleoni, a military leader who defended his home city on behalf of the republic of Venice in the 15th century.
Colleoni is thought to be one of the most honourable condottieri (mercenary leaders) of his era, carrying out charitable works and agricultural improvements when he was not fighting.
He was born in Solza, just outside Bergamo, in 1400 and began his military career at the age of 15.
After Bergamo passed from the control of the Visconti to Venice, he was entrusted by the republic with commanding the armies deployed to defend the city.
When Venice and Milan made peace, Colleoni went over to serve the Milanese, but they were suspicious of him and imprisoned him at Monza .
On his release he served Francesco Sforza for a while, but the Venetians persuaded him to return to them and made him captain general of the republic. He was to serve Venice faithfully for the rest of his life.
In 1456 Colleoni acquired a castle at Malpaga to the south of Bergamo , where he settled down to live peacefully with his wife and eight children and carry out works to benefit the area.
In later life he commissioned the architect Antonio Amadeo to design a chapel where he could be buried with the insignia of a captain of the Venetian republic. The sacristry of Santa Maria Maggiore was demolished to make way for this in 1472. Amadeo designed the Cappella Colleoni to harmonise with the adjacent Santa Maria Maggiore and it is now considered one of the finest examples of Renaissance architecture in Italy .
Colleoni died on 2 November, 1475 and his body was placed in a sarcophagus inside his own chapel, where it still rests.
He left money to Venice, with a request that an equestrian statue of himself be erected in Piazza San Marco. The statue -- a detail of which is pictured, right -- was made by Andrea Verrocchio, but as there was a rule that no monument was allowed in the piazza, it was placed opposite the Scuola di San Marco in Campo Santi Giovanni e Paolo.