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.


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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