|Palazzo della Ragione|
From whatever direction you arrive in Bergamo’s Piazza Vecchia at the heart of the Città Alta (upper town), if it is the first time you have seen the square, you will be amazed by its fine buildings.
You will probably find your eyes drawn to the 12th century Palazzo della Ragione (Palace of Reason), an imposing presence at the southern end of the piazza.
The ground floor walls of the Palazzo were removed in the 15th century to allow a view through the arches into Piazza Duomo. This gives you a glimpse of the pink and white facade of the Colleoni Chapel, in stark contrast to the dark stone of the Palazzo. The carving of the lion over the central window was added in the 18th century, demonstrating the domination of the Venetians over Bergamo.
|The palazzo's covered staircase|
An interesting architectural feature is the covered staircase at the side, built to enable visitors to access the salone superiore (main top floor room) of the palazzo from ground floor level. These days the salone is open to the public for exhibitions and cultural events.
The staircase and the stone bridge that connects it to the palazzo were added to the original 12th century building in 1453.
Next to it, the big bell tower, il Campanone, dates back to at least the 12th century. It is also known as the Torre Civica (Civic Tower). If you are in the Piazza Vecchia at 10 pm on any evening you will hear the bell toll 100 times, marking the ancient curfew, when the gates in Bergamo’s walls were locked at night to keep the city safe from outsiders. The bell tolled to remind the Bergamaschi that it was time to come back inside the walls or be locked out for the night.
An interesting building on the west side of Piazza Vecchia is the 14th century palace that used to be the residence of the Venetian rulers of Bergamo.
The Palazzo del Podesta Veneto (the Palace of the Mayor of Venice) now houses the University of Bergamo’s Faculty of Foreign Languages and Literature.
The palace was originally built by the powerful Suardi family in about 1340 and was once decorated with frescoes by Bramante. The remaining fragments of the frescoes are now carefully preserved inside the Palazzo della Ragione.
The palace became the residence of the Podesta, the mayor sent to govern Bergamo by the Venetians. The various Podesta ruled Bergamo from there from the 16th century until the end of the 18th century, when the city finally became free of Venice .
A beautiful building at the northern end that should not to be overlooked is the white marble Biblioteca Civica (Angelo Mai Civic Library), also referred to as the Palazzo Nuovo.
|Piazza Vecchia looking towards Biblioteca Civica|
It was originally built as a town hall for Bergamo at the beginning of the 16th century, based on a design by architect Vincenzo Scamozzi.
It became the home of a library in the 18th century and the collection of documents, manuscripts and volumes has grown to more than 500,000 items.
The facade of the building was completed in the 20th century, still following Scamozzi’s original design, and the library was later named after Cardinal Angelo Mai, a famous palaeographer, who was born in Schilpario, north of Lago d’Iseo.
An elegant feature in the centre of the piazza is the fountain decorated with white marble lions. It provides a good focal point for photographers, with either the Palazzo della Ragione or the Biblioteca Civica providing a backdrop.
The baroque fountain was donated to the city by Alvise Contarini in 1780 at the end of his time as Podesta for Bergamo .
There are restaurants on both sides of the square and bars at each end where you can sit outside and contemplate your surroundings. After spending some time in the square, you will understand why Piazza Vecchia has been praised for its beauty by architects ranging from Le Corbusier to Frank Lloyd Wright.