Medieval palace was once used as a courthouse
The facade of the 12th century Palazzo della Ragione is an iconic image of Bergamo’s upper town, the Città Alta.
But the most photographed and admired building in Piazza Vecchia hides many fascinating secrets.
If you step under the archways into what was once the ground floor of the building, you are entering what used to be Bergamo’s courthouse.
|The white seat was where the prisoner would have to sit
During the period of Venetian domination the judges used to preside over legal proceedings there and would take a decision based on their ‘reason’, in Italian ‘ragione’. This is how the medieval palace acquired its name.
You will see a row of stone seats along one of the palace’s walls but only one of the seats is white. This is the so called ‘Seat of Shame’ where the prisoner accused of the crime would have had to sit during the legal arguments.
Take a seat there yourself and imagine what it would have been like to be someone accused of a crime in the 16th century when the Venetians first took control of Bergamo. The defendant would have been very glad to be able to stand up and walk into Piazza Duomo and continue sightseeing, as today’s visitors can!
The palace has been damaged by fires over the centuries and has had to be rebuilt many times. It is said that the ground floor walls were removed to allow a view through the arches into Piazza Duomo. This enables visitors to see the stunning pink and white facade of the Colleoni Chapel, which is in stark contrast to the dark stone of Palazzo della Ragione.
|The facade of the medieval Palazzo della Ragione
The grand covered stairway, which dates from 1453, rises from Piazza Vecchia to the first floor of the palace. There are 13th and 14th century frescoes, which were taken from old churches and houses in the area, decorating the upper hall.
The palace was mentioned in a document of 1198 and is therefore believed to be the oldest communal building in Italy. It was once used for meetings of Bergamo’s civic authority, but it has also been a theatre and a library and occasionally acted as an art gallery.
The carving of the lion over the central window of the palace was added to the exterior of the building to mark the domination of the Venetians over Bergamo. The current lion is actually a 20th century replica of the 15th century original, which was torn down when the French took control of Bergamo in 1797.