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.


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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