Bergamo: The Citta Alta

Bergamo is like many Italian hill towns in that there is a cittá alta (high city) and cittá bassa (low city). The former is always the original fortified settlement, usually dating back many centuries. The latter is the expanded version, on flatter ground and convenient to modern transportation networks.

Bergamo’s cittá alta dates back to pre-Roman times. It is a glorious stack of settlements on top of settlements, topped with lots of modern charm.

My daughter’s research is taking place in the old archives, housed in a palace on the Piazza Vecchia. So, I accompanied her up to the old city, touring around in the Italian sunshine and stocking up on Vitamin D while she squirreled away in the stacks, and meeting for a yummy lunch afterwards.

The Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore, built on top of Roman houses, then an early Christian church, and finally a Romanesque basilica in 1137. That basilica has been dressed up considerably since then, but the original building underpins it all.
The Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore is built on top of Roman houses, then an early Christian church, and finally a Romanesque basilica in 1137. That basilica has been dressed up considerably since then, but the original building underpins it all.
A side porch in the Venetian style.
A side porch in the Venetian style. Venice controlled Bergamo for several centuries, constructing enormous fortifications now known as the Venetian Walls.
Lions of San Marco, patron saint of Venice, support the porch.
Lions of San Marco, patron saint of Venice, support the porch.
The church was unusual in that there were dozens of tapestries lining the walls.
The church was unusual in that there were dozens of amazing tapestries lining the walls.
Beautiful statue inside the church.
Beautiful statue inside the church.
Still life in a shop window. (Really enjoying some quality produce this week!)
Still life in a shop window. (I am very much enjoying some quality produce this week!)
Most of the building in the city have older buildings showing through the walls like this.
Most of the buildings in the city have older buildings showing through the walls like this one does.
A mysterious door in a wall.
A mysterious door in one of the town walls.
These little polenta cakes are a local specialty. I haven't tried on yet, but I certainly intend to before we leave.
These little polenta cakes are a local specialty. I haven’t tried one yet–being too stuffed by the end of every meal here for dessert!–but I certainly intend to before we leave.
The old public laundry facility still stands. There are rows of stone sinks for washing clothes.
The old public laundry facility still stands. There are rows of stone sinks fed by spring water for washing clothes.

There are a number of very small museums in the old town. I checked out four of them in about two hours. (They are really very small!) A historical museum, which was very multimedia and could be described as a “Bergamo Experience.” A somewhat overpriced “cathedral treasure” museum which did have some interesting information about the earlier churches on the site (and blingy chalices and monstrances, of course). And on the edge of town, an archaeological museum and a natural sciences museum, at both of which I was the only visitor.

Most exhibits were in Italian, which I don’t actually speak. However,  I do speak fairly fluent Spanish, which helps a lot. I can usually get the gist of spoken Italian, and written Italian rarely presents a serious problem. This is one reason I love traveling in Italy–I can understand what’s going on around me much better than I can in Poland. Love me some Romance languages! And the sun, and the people, and the food…

The archaeological museum was pretty good. Roman Bergamo was seriously rich, and there were a number of really nice statues on display.
The archaeological museum was pretty good. Roman Bergamo was seriously rich, and there were a number of very nice statues on display.
The natural history museum was mostly a LOT of taxidermy and rocks. This mammoth is impressive, though.
The natural history museum was mostly a LOT of taxidermy and rocks.  I went through it very quickly, having seen enough taxidermy to last a lifetime in central Europe. This mammoth is pretty impressive, though.

I also climbed the Torre Civica. Because it was a tower, therefore it must be climbed. This one unusually had an elevator going most of the way up. I was the only person there as well and enjoyed a spectacular view. Until the giant bells right over my head started clanging! I nearly dropped my camera, and scurried down the stairs right quick.

bergamo_alta-13
The citta bassa has a persistent layer of fog which becomes quite epic at dusk. Those are Alpine foothills in the distance.
Nice.
Less fog in the other direction. So pretty.
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