Alternative sightseeing in Bergamo 4
A guide to the city's hidden spots
A Paduan friend of mine recently commented that the way I talk about Bergamo makes it sound like Paris.
I'll be honest, I think there was a hint of sarcasm in his words but there is also some truth to it! Our city may not be the city of light, love or the Mona Lisa, but it is home to a wealth of hidden treasures to be enjoyed and explored every day, just like the world’s great metropoles.
That is precisely why I created the Alternative Bergamo feature, so that anybody visiting my city for the first time can break free from the typical tourist circuit and discover an unexpected sight, building or treasure as they lose themselves among the city streets. However, it is also for the people who know Bergamo inside out: a way to discover their city all over again and fall in love with it as though it were the first time they had set eyes upon it!
If you missed the first three articles, catch up here after reading this latest installation. Then open up your Bergamo City Kiwi map, put your favourite shoes on, open up your eyes (and hearts!) and set off to discover all that Bergamo has to offer!
THE CARIANI FRESCOES IN PIAZZA MASCHERONI
There was a time when piazzas were not just a place to meet, have a coffee in the sunshine and watch the world go by. Piazzas were once a place for trade and exchange, the very first shopping centres if you will but without heating and artificial lighting. If you arrive in the Upper City from Colle Aperto, you will find a beautiful piazza just after crossing La Cittadella. It is known as Piazza Mascheroni today but it was once named Piazza Nova, which translates as New Square so as to distinguish it from the historic piazza!
Opened in 1520 by the Venetians as a space dedicated to the sale of grain, at one point it was probably covered with frescoes depicting what went on in the midst of the surrounding buildings. Only a few have survived but they are quite enchanting: it is thought that they are the work of local artist Cariani from Fuipiano, a talented painter who seized the opportunity to study in Venice, the heart of the sixteenth-century art world, before returning to Bergamo to express his creativity.
Look up into the right-hand corner: two men exchange bags of grain in a loggia while lower down, behind the window shutter, a man is playing the flute, reminding us that the piazza would also be transformed with festivities and games on various occasions throughout the year such as Carnival.
THE MYSTERIOUS SARCOPHAGUS
Continue towards the centre of the Upper City, cross the Basilica and exit from the rear door toward Via Arena. There, beneath a portico and almost unattended, stands a sarcophagus that once lay beneath the floor of the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore. A mercenary commander was once buried there, a captain buried alongside his sword and another strange object. Found with the body of this unknown commander was an ivory die that the captains used to make decisions during battle, in situations where there was no rational choice and they were paralysed by doubt. This inspired the expression, "The die is cast"! Isn't that interesting?
The identity of this mysterious soldier is unknown. It was briefly thought to be the body of Bartolomeo Colleoni, but that's a story for another time!
THE OLD BASILICA COLUMN
Once you've explored the Upper City, it's time to head down into the Lower City to discover another side of Bergamo. But before catching the bus from Colle Aperto, remember to stop in at Caffè della Marianna for a taste of their unmissable stracciatella ice cream. While enjoying this delicious secret recipe, stroll past the Porta di S. Alessandro and you’ll find yourself in front of a rather worn but very important column.
Placed here by Bishop Emo of Bergamo sixty years after the construction of the Walls of Bergamo, the column serves to remind us where the Basilica Alessandrina once stood. From the fourth century AD onwards, the Basilica Alessandrina was a very important place for Christians: it was home to the remains of our patron, Saint Alexander, and the heart of Christianity in Bergamo. However, the construction of the Venetian walls led to the demolition of this important place of worship and the resignation of local worshippers who saw their church torn down before their eyes. The holy relics were moved to what is now the Cathedral dedicated to Saint Alexander in Piazza Duomo but used to be dedicated to another saint, Saint Vincent, co-patron of our city!
THE ROOFTOP WITH A PIECE BY MASTROVITO
Let’s head down into the Lower City and emerge ourselves in a healthy dose of contemporary art after all this ancient history! In the modern heart of Porta Nuova, don’t be afraid to enter the luxurious Cappello d’Oro Hotel and ask the receptionist to show you the new masterpiece by Andrea Mastrovito. Mastrovito is a local artist who is based in New York nowadays but frequently comes home to see his beloved Atalanta play important matches and give us another dose of his visionary mind and creative flair. Don’t get too excited, this rooftop isn’t a patch on the skyscrapers of New York or London but the artwork is definitely worth a visit!
Mastrovito created Polvere di Stelle (Star Dust) in honour of the historic owners of the hotel, the Zambonellis. Their portrait is engraved into the wall but their faces have been replaced with complex geometrical stars whose trails are depicted with hundreds of wooden rulers set in a modern inlay. It is a tribute to the great minds and hard work of local families in Bergamo. The row of rulers hugs the wall to create an alternative Cartesian plane, a parallel world of dreams, ideas and vision.
WHO AM I?
My name is Nadia and I am a Bergamo City Guide. I like to call myself a guide for travellers rather than a tourist guide because I think that travellers have more respect for the places they visit, they tiptoe around the cities they visit and are curious and passionate about travel!
Find me online (Facebook e Instagram) as LA MARGÌ, it’s the name of a famous Bergamasco card game that I used to play with my granny (she always cheated!).
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