Walking around Bergamo

Tour to reach the Upper City on foot via Bergamo's historic borghi

2020-07-17
Via Pignolo
Via Pignolo

How many roads lead to Città Alta, our historic Bergamo on the hill? Plenty! And they are all rich in history and magnificent places to explore!

These are the medieval streets that used to connect Bergamo to the many nearby villages, such as Borgo Pignolo, Borgo Canale, and Borgo San Leonardo. Places that are still lively communities to this day, built around cobbled streets, old shops, and centuries-old traditions!

Now that we can slowly begin to enjoy our beautiful city once more, I thought it would be the perfect moment to share a few ideas on how to leave your car behind and walk these streets to discover hidden corners and fascinating stories. A relaxed and intriguing stroll that will bring you all the way to the doors of our precious walls, a UNESCO heritage site.

So put on your most comfortable shoes, open your eyes wide and enjoy this unique and very special walk!
Let’s get going!

BORGO PIGNOLO, THE BORGO OF KNOWLEDGE

Today I will explain how to reach Bergamo Alta on foot via Borgo Pignolo, also known as the Borgo of Knowledge. Today it is home to the University of Bergamo, but its history also tells of visits from illustrious characters, rectors, and esteemed figures from the Venetian lagoon.

That's right, we are on one of the arterial roads that gained increasing importance during the domination of the Republic of Venice, precisely because it connected Bergamo with the city of Venice. Noble and wealthy merchants would settle here, building wonderful abodes with large grounds and vegetable gardens. They chose this road because there was no space left in the city on the hill and in doing so created one of the richest and most important neighbourhoods in our city.

Dominican Church of San Bartolomeo
Dominican Church of San Bartolomeo

FROM THE SENTIERONE TO PIAZZETTA SANTO SPIRITO

If you arrive by train or have left your car outside the city, you can easily get to the centre of Bergamo Bassa on foot or by public transport (ATB). You will find yourself on the Sentierone, the paved road that once traversed fields to connect Borgo Pignolo to Borgo San Lorenzo. This is the first leg of our journey. Stop off at the Dominican Church of San Bartolomeo to admire the Martinengo Altarpiece by Venetian painter Lorenzo Lotto and be enchanted by the contrasting colours and darkness that surrounds the numerous saints embracing the Virgin Mary on the throne.

Exit the Church from the side entrance and walk along Via Tasso, one of Bergamo’s most beautiful streets! Either way, don't forget to look up at the row of buildings on your right. These include the Palazzo della Biblioteca Caversazzi, Bergamo’s former town hall, now home to the College of Science, Letters and Arts which puts on film screenings under the stars with Esterno Notte during the summer. Stop once more to admire the Palazzo of the Province of Bergamo, here since 1870 with its huge neoclassical facade bursting with bas-reliefs and a sculpture garden where you can get lost among the works of local sculptor Manzù.

Enjoy the charm of the historic shops, restaurants and bars: if you’re feeling peckish, we recommend trying a focaccia from Krescenza while if you fancy stopping for lunch in this beautiful part of the city, then I highly recommend a light but tasty meal from Veg Eat. Either options are available to go and you can stop for a pleasant break in the green setting of one of Bergamo’s public parks: Parco Caprotti, just before Piazzetta Santo Spirito. Turn into no. 109 on your left and stroll through frescoed courtyards to get there. This truly is an enchanting spot: a romantic late nineteenth century garden with a pond, an artificial cave, and a small pavilion, all set among ancient trees, including a cedar and a beautiful Gingko Biloba, which is mesmerising during the autumn season.

FROM PIAZZETTA SANTO SPIRITO TO VIA VERDI

We are finally in the heart of Borgo Pignolo! This small piazza, bustling with passers-by, cyclists, dogs and prams, houses an imposing church dedicated to the Holy Spirit (look up at the façade to see a dove, symbol of the Holy Spirit, flying down to the believers in a sculpture by Somaini). The church is nicknamed Chiesa dei Tasso, after the historic family from Camerata Cornello, a small town in the Brembana Valley, who built a postal empire in the sixteenth century. They had a post office here in the Borgo as well as their own imposing residence. They showed their power and status by financing reconstruction works on part of the church. Step inside and discover a priceless selection of decorations and works of art, including various chapels for the wealthy families of the Borgo; the second altarpiece by Lorenzo Lotto on our tour; and the tombs of Domenico Tasso and his wife Elisabetta Rota, in the chapel to the left of the altar.

Let’s hit the road again, continuing along Via Pignolo, a beautiful road that climbs towards Città Alta, with stunning view and boutiques whose elegant windows dot the facades of the seemingly never-ending row of palazzi. Don’t miss the incredible work of Mastro Liutaio, the luthier keeping an ancient craft alive despite his young age.

Another stop awaits at no. 45: a mighty wooden gate hides the historic home of the Marenzi family! Two large courtyards, a neo-Gothic tower in the beautiful gardens, ballrooms, frescoes, and the sheer luxury of one of Bergamo’s most important homes.

Piazza del Delfino's fountain
Piazza del Delfino's fountain

FROM VIA VERDI TO PORTA SANT’AGOSTINO: YOUR FINAL DESTINATION

The final part of our walk takes us across Via Verdi, a road that emerged in the 1920s to divide the Borgo in two, known ever since as Pignolo Basso and Pignolo Alto.

After crossing the street, we come to a small church that is here today thanks to FAI (the Italian National Trust). The Church of San Bernardino is dedicated to the Franciscan saint who, when visiting our city in the early fifteenth century, resolved the dispute between the Guelfe and Ghibelline families, restoring peace to Bergamo. You will see the IHS trigram, symbol of the Saint, in the architrave above the entrance: the three letters recall the ancient Latin name for Jesus, or Iesus Hominum Sanctus.

There is another opportunity to admire some more of Lorenzo Lotto’s work here: the enchanting San Bernardino Altarpiece, commissioned by the Borgo’s noble families. Be sure to get close enough to see the realistic details of San Giuseppe, in scruffy clothes, sleeve coming unstitched, and rubbing his itching feet!

And while on the subject of noble families, you can’t miss a chance to indulge in the sixteenth-century palazzi of the Tasso, Cassotti, Suardi, Daina, Bonomi, and Agliardi families: historic houses that boast decorated windows, entranceways personalised with coats of arms, flower-filled hallways and wrought iron gates! Stop at Palazzo Bassi-Rathgeb to admire the terracotta porticoes by Pietro Isabello and lose yourself in the rooms of the Bernareggi Museum.

Stick with it as the road climbs more steeply. Stop to catch your breath in Piazza del Delfino, which takes its name from the recently restored fountain so beloved by the local Bergamaschi. In addition to admiring the half-timbered building that whisks us far away across the Alps, you will find the symbol of the Borgo, a pinecone, in a small bas-relief at the base of the fountain. Borgo Pignolo takes its name from the Italian word for pinecone, ‘pigna’, as this was once a land of coniferous forests, which were transformed into vegetable gardens and orchards and eventually into wonderful romantic gardens!

Our journey is almost complete! Continue along Via Pignolo for a look at the wonderful terrace at the UNIBG headquarters, which offers breathtaking views over the rooftops of the city. A few moments later, you will reach the Porta di Sant’Agostino. After a long climb, step through the gateway into Bergamo’s historic Upper Town, the final destination of our journey!

Sant'Agostino's Gate
Sant'Agostino's Gate

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!).

A Bergamo guide for travellers

Website: www.nadiamangili.com
Facebook: lamargi.guidaperviaggiatoriabergamo
Instagram: lamargi_guidaperviaggiatoriabg

La Margì – Nadia Mangili