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 sculptor Giovanni Maria Benzoni

Artist who lived in Rome but stayed in touch with ‘home’ city

Benzoni's self-portrait bust resides at the Biblioteca Civica Angelo Mai
Benzoni's self-portrait bust resides
at the Biblioteca Civica Angelo Mai
The 19th century sculptor Giovanni Maria Benzoni, who was born in a mountainous village about 35km (22 miles) north of Bergamo, spent the whole of his working life in Rome and achieved considerable fame there, yet always regarded Bergamo as his spiritual home and often returned to the city.

He became a member of the University of Bergamo and accepted commissions to create busts of famous citizens. His own self-portrait bust resides in the Biblioteca Civica Angelo Mai, on Piazza Vecchia in the Città Alta. 

Benzoni became so famous in Rome in the first half of the 19th century that collectors and arts patrons in the city dubbed him the “new Canova” after the great Neoclassical sculptor Antonio Canova.

Born on 28 August, 1809 - 214 years ago today, Benzoni moved to Rome as a teenager to take a job in another sculptor’s  workshop and to study his craft at the prestigious Accademia di San Luca, later setting up his own workshop in the capital, where he produced hundreds of allegorical and mythological scenes as well as busts and funerary monuments. 

Yet he was regarded by Romans as a bergamasco - one of a celebrated group of bergamaschi based in Rome in the early 19th century, including the composer Gaetano Donizetti, the philologist Cardinal Angelo Mai and the painter Francesco Coghetti.

He was later commissioned to sculpt a monumental tomb for Cardinal Mai in the Basilica of Sant’Anastasia al Palatino in the centre of Rome.

The frescoed Torre dell'Orologio in the town of Clusone, hear Benzoni's home village
The frescoed Torre dell'Orologio in the town
of Clusone, hear Benzoni's home village
Benzoni was born in Songavazzo, a village in the province of Bergamo just outside Clusone, a beautiful small town nestling on a plain against the backdrop of the Alpi Orobie - sometimes translated as the Orobic Alps. 

His parents, Giuseppe and Margherita, were poor farmers. Giovanni Maria worked briefly as a shepherd, but his father died when he was around 11 years old, after which he was sent to work in his uncle’s small carpentry shop at Riva di Solto, on the western shore of Lago d’Iseo, around 40km (25 miles) from Bergamo.

He began to show a talent for carving religious statues which came to the attention of a wealthy patron called Giuseppe Fontana, who was impressed enough to speak about him to Count Luigi Tadini, who would later open the Tadini Academy of Fine Arts in Lovere, another town on Lago d’Iseo.

Tadini asked Benzoni to make a copy of the Stele Tadini, the sculpture made for him by Antonio Canova in memory of the count’s son Faustino, who had died at a young age.

He was so impressed by Benzoni’s attention to detail and the accuracy of the reproduction that he arranged for him to attend a college in Lovere. 

Benzoni's bust of his patron, Count Luigi Tadini, by the lake in Lovere
Benzoni's bust of his patron, Count
Luigi Tadini, by the lake in Lovere
When he reached the age of 18 or 19, having failed to obtain a place for him at the Brera Academy in Milan or at the Accademia Carrara in Bergamo, Tadini took Benzoni to Rome, where he would work in the workshop of Giuseppe Fabris - an artist who would later became director general of the Vatican museums - and attend the prestigious Accademia di San Luca, where his fees were paid by Count Tadini.

Benzoni’s elegant marble sculptures had echoes of Canova’s work and collectors in Rome soon began to speak of him as “il novello Canova” - the new Canova. 

After earning some money for his work, he opened a small studio in Via Sant'Isidoro, in the centre of Rome, off the street now called Via Vittorio Veneto. 

He later moved to bigger premises in Via del Babuino, between the Spanish Steps and Piazza del Popolo, where he employed more than 50 assistants. Among his most famous works were Cupid and Psyche, the Veiled Rebecca and Flight from Pompeii. 

Benzoni, who married into a noble Roman family and had six children, sculpted a statue of his first patron, Count Luigi Tadini, which stands on a plinth in a lakeside garden opposite the Tadini Academy in Lovere.

Tadini established the Accademia di Belle Arti Tadini in the lakefront Palazzo Tadini in 1829 and it has become one of the most important art galleries in Italy. 

Benzoni died in Rome in 1873.

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Remembering artist Giovanni Paolo Cavagna

Prolific painter left a rich legacy of religious works in Bergamo

Frescoes by Giovanni Paolo Cavagna  illuminate the dome of Santa Maria Maggiore
Frescoes by Giovanni Paolo Cavagna 
illuminate the dome of Santa Maria Maggiore
Late Renaissance painter Giovanni Paolo Cavagna, who became famous for his religious works of art, died 396 years ago today in his native city of Bergamo.

Cavagna was mainly active in Bergamo and Brescia, for most of his career, although he is believed to have spent some time training in Venice in the studio of Titian.

The artist was born in Borgo San Leonardo in the Città Bassa in about 1550. The painter Cristoforo Baschenis Il Vecchio is believed to have taken him as an apprentice from the age of 12. Cavagna is also thought to have spent time as a pupil of the famous Bergamo portrait painter Giovanni Battista Moroni.

Cavagna’s work can still be seen in many churches in Bergamo and villages in the surrounding area. In the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore in the Città Alta there are paintings by him of the Assumption of the Virgin, the Nativity, and Esther and Ahasuerus.

The Church of Santa Spirito in the  Città Bassa has works by Cavagna
The Church of Santa Spirito in the
 Città Bassa has works by Cavagna
In the Church of Santa Spirito in the Città Bassa, there are his paintings of Santa Lucia and the Crucifixion with Saints. He painted a Coronation of the Virgin for the Church of San Giovanni Battista in the province of Casnigo, which is to the north east of Bergamo, and some of his paintings can also be seen in the sanctuary of the Madonna del Castello in Almenno San Salvatore, a province to the north west of Bergamo.

The artist also completed a painting of the Crucifixion for the Church of Santa Lucia in Venice.

Cavagna’s son, Francesco, who became known as Cavagnuola, and his daughter, Caterina, also became painters.

After his death in Bergamo in 1627, Cavagna was buried in the Church of Santa Maria Immacolata delle Grazie in the Città Bassa, but after the reorganization of the lower town in the 19th century, the church was rebuilt and Cavagna’s tomb had to be moved, and it is now uncertain what happened to it.

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Andrew Viterbi – the ‘father of the mobile telephone’

Andrew Viterbi became a major
figure in digital communications
Bergamo residents can be proud that the brilliant engineer Andrew Viterbi, who invented the technology for cellular phones and changed the way people communicate worldwide, was born in their city.

The Viterbi algorithm, a mathematical formula for eliminating signal interference that the electrical engineer devised in 1967, is still widely used in the manufacture of cellular phones.

Andrew Viterbi was born on 9 March, 1935 in Bergamo as Andrea Giacomo Viterbi,  but he had to leave Italy while still a young child when his family emigrated to the United States just before the start of World War II. 

Viterbi grew up in the US to work as an electrical engineer and study for a PhD in digital communications. He was awarded academic positions at the University of California, where he invented his ground breaking algorithm.

Viterbi then went on to co-found the American multinational corporation Qualcomm, which became one of the most important communications companies in the world.

His father, Achille, had been director of Bergamo Hospital’s ophthalmology department in the 1930s and his mother, Maria Luria, who came from a prominent family in Piedmont, had a teaching degree.

But after Mussolini introduced his new racial laws in Italy before the start of World War II, the couple, who were Jewish, were deprived of their positions and unable to make a living to support their family, giving them little option but to leave.

Even in his 80s, Viterbi has remained an  active member of the scientific community
Even in his 80s, Viterbi has remained an 
active member of the scientific community
They had planned to sail to America on 1 September, 1939, but after receiving a tip-off alerting them to possible danger, they secretly escaped two weeks early and were able to land safely in New York, where a member of their extended family already lived.  They then moved to Boston, where Andrea’s name was anglicised as Andrew after he became naturalised as an American.

Andrew Viterbi attended the Boston Latin School and entered the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1952 to study electrical engineering. After qualifying, he worked at Raytheon and then the Jet Propulsion Laboratory at Pasadena, where he worked on telemetry for unmanned space missions and helped to develop the ‘phase-locked loop.’ At the same time, he was studying for his PhD in digital communications at the University of Southern California and graduated from there in 1963.

In 1967, while in an academic role at the University of California, he proposed his Viterbi algorithm to decode convolutionally encoded data - a groundbreaking mathematical formula for eliminating signal interference. This allowed for effective cellular communication, digital satellite broadcast receivers, and deep space telemetry.

The Viterbi algorithm is still used widely in cellular phones for error correcting codes as well as for speech recognition, DNA analysis and other applications. Viterbi also helped to develop the Code Division Multiple Access standard for cell phone networks.

There is a dedicated space for art and culture events named after Viterbi at the Palazzo della Provincia
There is a dedicated space for art and culture events
named after Viterbi at the Palazzo della Provincia 
With Irwin Jacobs, Viterbi was the co-founder of Linkabit Corporation in 1968, and Qualcomm Inc in 1985. He became president of the venture capital company, The Viterbi Group in 2003, which helps new technology businesses start up.

Viterbi has received many awards for his invention of the Viterbi algorithm and a computer centre and an engineering school have been named after him. His algorithm paved the way for the widespread use of cellular technology, which changed the way people communicate worldwide.

Recognised in Italy as ‘il padre del telefonino’ - the father of the mobile telephone - he has been awarded an honorary degree in electrical engineering from the University of Bergamo.

In 2007, Viterbi was honoured by the Bergamo Province, when they named a dedicated space in the Palazzo della Provincia after the engineer. The palazzo, which is in Via Tasso in the Città Bassa, had converted an area to be used for art and culture events, which they called Spazio Viterbi.

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Enea Salmeggia – painter

Bergamo artist left treasure trove of pictures to remember him by

Enea Salmeggia's Il Martirio di Sant'Alessandro
hangs behind the altar of Sant'Alessandro in Colonna
Enea Salmeggia, who was active during the late Renaissance period and left behind a rich legacy of paintings in Lombardy, died on 25 February 1626 in Bergamo.

Salmeggia, also known as Il Talpino, or Salmezza, spent time in Rome as a young man, where he studied the works of Raphael. His style has often been likened to that of Raphael and he has even been dubbed the ‘Bergamo Raphael’ by some art enthusiasts. A drawing in the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, of two figures seated along with some architectural studies, was previously attributed to Raphael, but has now been ascribed to Enea Salmeggia.

The artist was born at Salmezza, a frazione of Nembro, a comune in the province of Bergamo, between 1565 and 1570. It is known that Salmeggia grew up in Borgo San Leonardo in Bergamo, where his father, Antonio, was a tailor.

He learnt the art of painting from other Bergamo painters and is also believed to have studied under the Bergamo artist Simone Peterzano in Milan. Caravaggio was one of Peterzano’s most famous pupils and it has been suggested that Salmeggia could have been studying with Peterzano at about the same time as Caravaggio.

Salmeggia's Portrait of a Gentleman can be seen at Accademia Carrara
Salmeggia's Portrait of a Gentleman
can be seen at Accademia Carrara
Salmeggia was so young when he received his first commission to paint an Adoration of the Magi for the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore in Bergamo that his father had to sign the acceptance document on his behalf.

The artist married Vittoria Daverio, the sister of Milanese sculptor Pietro Antonio Daverio, and they had six children. Two of their children died from the plague and one went into a monastery, but his daughters, Chiara and Elisabetta, and his son, Francesco, helped in his workshop near the Church of Sant’Alessandro in Colonna in Via Sant’Alessandro, and they later became painters themselves.

One of Salmeggia’s most famous works, Il Martirio di Sant’Alessandro, an oil on canvas, completed in 1623, can still be seen behind the altar in the Church of Sant’Alessandro in Colonna.

The Church has a Roman column in front of it, which is believed to mark the exact spot where Bergamo’s patron saint, Sant’Alessandro was martyred by the Romans in 303 for refusing to renounce his Christian faith. Every year, on 26 August, the Festa di Sant’Alessandro, Bergamo people commemorates Sant’Alessandro’s decapitation there.

After Salmeggia died in Bergamo in 1626 he was buried in the Church of Sant’Alessandro in Colonna.

There are paintings by Salmeggia in the churches of Sant’Andrea and Santi Bartolomeo e Stefano in Bergamo and the Accademia Carrara, a prestigious art gallery in Bergamo, also has works by Salmeggia, including his Portrait of a Gentleman. Further afield, there are paintings by Salmeggia in Brescia, Lodi and Milan.

In Nembro, the suburb where Salmeggia was born, the Church of San Martino has no fewer than 27 of his paintings for visitors to admire.

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Bergamo becomes Capital of Culture

Teatro Donizetti hosts televised launch show

Bergamo's mayor, Giorgio Gori, speaks to the audience at Teatro Donizetti
Bergamo's mayor, Giorgio Gori, speaks
to the audience at Teatro Donizetti
Bergamo has become the official Italian Capital of Culture for 2023 alongside another historic city in Lombardy, Brescia. 

To demonstrate that Bergamo and Brescia have joint status and are working in tandem, a sophisticated televised launch event was held at Teatro Donizetti in Bergamo on 20 January, linked to an inauguration ceremony taking place simultaneously 50km (31 miles) away at Teatro Grande in Brescia.

The programme switched alternately between the stages in Bergamo and Brescia, with Italian President Sergio Mattarella able to watch everything that took place on the stage at Teatro Donizetti from his front row seat in the theatre in Brescia.

Meanwhile, Italian culture minister Gennaro Sangiuliano was among the distinguished guests in Teatro Donizetti watching everything happening on stage in Brescia.

Bergamo and Brescia were awarded the joint culture capital honour in 2020 by the Italian Government, as ‘a symbol of hope and rebirth’ following the sadness caused by so many deaths during the Covid 19 pandemic, which had such a devastating effect on both cities.

The spectacular scene in the centre of Bergamo,  where 20,000 people gathered on Saturday evening
The spectacular scene in the centre of Bergamo, 
where 20,000 people gathered on Saturday evening

For the whole of this year, Bergamo and Brescia will become ‘a single city illuminata’, a united, enlightened city, which will host cultural events such as art exhibitions, music festivals and opera performances, contributing to economic prosperity and encouraging more visitors to the area.

As a taste of the delights to come, there was a performance from the stage in Brescia by a guitarist and violinist, and from Bergamo, by a soprano, accompanied by a pianist, who sang an aria from the opera Don Pasquale by Donizetti.

The Mayor of Bergamo, Giorgio Gori, said the year as Capital of Culture would be a fresh start for both cities and would showcase the natural beauty and artistic patrimony of the territories as well as the local cuisine and wine. He said: ‘Culture, as well as being an essential lever for attracting tourism, is vital for improving the life of our communities.’

The launch was followed on Saturday by a spectacular open-air show in the heart of the Città Bassa, entitled I Nuovi Mille, featuring singing, music, acting, dance and storytelling, in which professional artists were joined by a thousand citizens of Bergamo from the city and the province.

A firework display added to Saturday's festivities
A firework display added to
Saturday's festivities
Bergamo is known as the Città di Mille because of the large participation of Bergamo citizens in Garibaldi’s Spedizione dei Mille in his campaign to unite Italy in the 19th century.

The show, watched by a crowd of 20,000 people, was preceded by four simultaneous processions from different points in the city, each arriving at the Piazza Vittorio Veneto, the square beyond the propylaea of the Porta Nuova looking towards the Città Alta, for a 50-minute performance followed by an open-air party lasting until midnight.

At the opposite end of the Viale Papa Giovanni XXIII, in the Piazzale Marconi in front of the railway station, another extraordinary show, featuring  lights, projections, music, acrobats and fireworks, added to the spectacle.

Next month, Bergamo will become an open air art gallery, with a host of events featuring national and international artists taking place in the city.

There are hundreds of other events as well as cultural and educational initiatives planned for both Bergamo and Brescia throughout 2023.

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