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.


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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