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 sparkles even more at Christmas

Bergamo's streets sparkle even more with Christmas lights
Bergamo's streets sparkle even more
with Christmas lights
Thousands of twinkling lights, colourfully decorated Christmas trees and lovingly recreated nativity scenes, known in Italian as presepi, make Bergamo an even more magical city  at Christmas.

And if you are a food lover, Bergamo is a good place to visit during the festive season because the focus is firmly on the feasting in the city’s restaurants.

On la Vigilia di Natale (Christmas Eve), a fish meal is traditionally consumed by Italians, consisting of several different courses, after which any adults who are still able to move may go to midnight mass.

But on Natale (Christmas Day) it is the time for the serious feasting to start. Some of the bars and restaurants will be open to serve church goers after the morning service and many families choose to go to a restaurant for their Christmas lunch. Booking in advance is essential, with restaurants taking names and contact numbers months in advance.

If you go to a Christmas feast in a friend’s home, the meal will begin with an antipasto course, which is likely to include Parma ham or bresaola - dried, salted beef - with preserved mushrooms, olives, and pickled vegetables.

Panettone is a traditional part of the Christmas table for families across Italy
Panettone is a traditional part of the Christmas
table for families across Italy
Stuffed pasta is usually served as a primo piatto - first course - either in the shape of ravioli or tortellini. This shape of pasta is said to have been inspired by a beautiful woman who was staying at an inn in the region of Emilia Romagna. The innkeeper is reputed to have tried to spy on her through a keyhole but all he could see was her navel.

Tortellini in brodo, traditionally served in capon broth, is a classic Christmas day dish and for the main course, turkey or capon is likely to be served with potatoes and vegetables as side dishes.

The traditional end to the meal is almost always panettone, served warm, accompanied by a glass of sparkling wine.

Italian folklore has it that panettone was concocted by a Milanese baker, Antonio (Toni), to impress his girlfriend one Christmas in the 15th century. The result was so successful that ‘Pane de Toni’ has become a regular feature of the Christmas season all over Italy and now even abroad.

The feasting and family parties continue on 26 December, the festa di Santo Stefano (Boxing Day).

A Happy Christmas and Buon Natale to all my readers!

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Enrico Rastelli – ‘the greatest juggler who ever lived’

The house in Via Giuseppe Garibaldi that Enrico Rastelli had built for his family
The house in Via Giuseppe Garibaldi that
Enrico Rastelli had built for his family
If you happen to be walking along Via Giuseppe Garibaldi in the Città Bassa, pause for a moment outside No 9.

Behind the elaborate wrought iron railings is a beautiful villa built in Stile Liberty, the Italian twist on Art Nouveau that was popular among architects in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

There are plenty of other examples of the style in Bergamo’s lower town but No 9 Via Giuseppe Garibaldi, nextdoor to the Conad supermarket on the section between Via Sant’Alessandro and Via Sant’Antonino, has a special story.

It was built for Enrico Rastelli, who is thought to have been the greatest juggler that ever lived.

Rastelli had been born in Russia in 1896, into a circus family originally from the Bergamo area. Both his parents were performers and trained him in circus disciplines including acrobatics, balancing, and aerial skills. He made his debut at the age of 13 as part of his parents’ aerial act.

Rastelli specialised in working
with sticks and balls
His real love, though, was juggling and he practised his skills constantly until he was able to achieve levels of technical brilliance beyond those of any of his contemporaries. By the age of 19, his juggling act was a big draw in itself.

While many jugglers at the time would throw and catch plates, hats, and canes, Rastelli restricted himself to working with balls and sticks in the Japanese style, outperforming any other juggler of his time.

By the 1920s he had become a star, touring Europe and America, amazing audiences with his skill and amassing large earnings.

Eventually he made the move to performing in vaudeville shows in theatres where he would appear in full football strip and juggle up to five footballs at a time.

In 1917, Rastelli married Harriet Price, a highwire artist, and they had three children. They frequently toured Europe with his act and his villa in Via Giuseppe Garibaldi became their permanent home in Italy.

Tragically, Rastelli’s life was cut short by illness and he passed away 109 years ago today, at the age of just 34.

A full-size statue stands in front of the Rastelli tomb
A full-size statue stands in
front of the Rastelli tomb
He contracted pneumonia while on tour in Europe and though he was able to return to his home in Bergamo to convalesce, his condition worsened and he died in the early hours of the morning of 13 December of anaemia. 

When his funeral took place in Bergamo, it was attended by thousands of people. He was buried in the Cimitero Monumentale in Bergamo and a life-sized statue of him was erected at his tomb, showing him spinning a ball on his raised finger.

The February 1932 edition of Vanity Fair magazine included a full-page photograph of Rastelli, captioned: ‘One of the most sensational attractions in the international world of vaudeville.’ The magazine said Rastelli had elevated juggling to an art, ‘due not only to the amazing agility and complexity of the juggling itself,’ but also ‘to the incredible ease of his execution, and the visual impression made on the audience.’

The Juggling Hall of Fame website says Rastelli was ‘the most famous and in the opinion of many, the greatest juggler who ever lived.’ They say that as well as his work with large balls, he could also juggle up to ten small balls, which is generally considered to be the record. 

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