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Bergamo: Walled City

Situated in the northeast of Italy in the Lombardy region, Bergamo is about an hour’s drive from its glitzy neighbour Milan. Unlike its more famous counterpart, however, Bergamo offers much more than just another Italian city.

Bronze statue on Colleoni Chapel

Bronze carving on Colleoni Chapel


Nestled at the foothills of the Alps, the city of Bergamo is a classic tale of 2 cities: the Citta Bassa (lower city) and the cobblestoned Citta Alta (upper city), both with very distinct and different personalities. Citta Alta is the older, more experienced district that’s rich in character, rising above the city like a wise village elder. Then there’s the younger new town – Citta Bassa – that’s attempting to surpass its elder, but succeeding only in size rather than grandeur.

The entire walled Citta Alta is situated on a hillock, accessible via several ‘gates’ that punctuate the walls either by road or funicolare (arguably the most picturesque way up). From here, a maze of quaint cobblestoned roads and alleyways through a mix of medieval and Renaissance architecture lead to Piazza Vecchia, the heart of this upper city.

Piazza in Bergamo's old city

Piazza Vecchia in Bergamo’s Citta Alta

In the middle of the piazza sits the Contarini fountain, surrounded by the Palazzo della Ragione, Palazzo del Podestà, Town Hall, and the Civic Tower which houses a giant bell that tolls 180 times each evening to mark an ancient curfew (when the city gates were closed to the outside world).

Colleoni coat-of-arms

Colleoni coat-of-arms

Just behind the square are the magnificent and intricately-carved Santa Maria Maggiore church and Colleoni Chapel. The latter was built as a mausoleum for the famous soldier Colleoni who was rumored to have 3 testicles – as a testament to this, you’ll notice that his coat-of-arms at the bronze front gate depicts 3 shiny ‘testicles’, which (as you would’ve guessed) have been rubbed for ‘luck’ over the centuries.

The walled city of Bergamo’s Citta Alta was once part of the Republic of Venice for 400 years in the early 15th century. To this day, many walled cities can still be found scattered throughout Italy, ranging from the tiny village of Vigoleno to Shakespeare’s grand city of Verona. The walls provided a means to control entry, as well as to protect the city from marauders and invaders, but it essentially meant that everything the city needed was contained within these stone walls.

A walk around Citta Alta will reveal plenty of stately homes, churches (including chapels and cathedrals), museums, government offices, shops, gardens, restaurants and even a Castello that affords panoramic views of Bergamo.

View from the Castillo

View from the Castello

Thanks to Bergamo’s position at the foot of the Orobie Alps, it attracts plenty of Italian skiers who flock to the nearby ski resorts nestled in the valleys of Brembana (Foppolo, Carona and San Simone) to the north, and Seriana (Colere, Passo della Presolana, Lizzola, Schilpario, etc) to the east.

Those heading north towards the Brembana Valley will no doubt be familiar with the spa town of San Pellegrino – famous the world over for its bottled mineral water – that’s situated along the valley.

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