Alternative sightseeing in Bergamo #2

A guide to the city's hidden spots

2019-07-16

Sightseeing from Borgo Canale
Sightseeing from Borgo Canale

We are back again with the second instalment of a special guide: I will be telling you four fascinating stories about enchanting places in my city, all perfect for exploring on a sunny Sunday as you discover my beloved Bergamo!
If you missed the first instalment, let me explain what this is all about. Alternative Bergamo is a brand new feature inspired by my passion for finding alternative places when I travel: spots unspoiled by crowds of tourists, whether a breathtaking panorama, a hidden piece of art or an impressive historic residence.
I decided to offer some similar tips for people visiting my city, regardless of whether you are a born and raised Bergamasco or just visiting. All you need is the Bergamo City Kiwi map, comfortable shoes and eyes wide open to admire all these exciting sites!

The church of the hopeless (Piazza San Salvatore)
The church of the hopeless (Piazza San Salvatore)

THE CHURCH OF THE HOPELESS

If you’re looking for the utmost hidden places, this is the perfect spot!
We are in Piazza S. Salvatore, on the hill of the same name, not far from Basilica di S. Maria Maggiore. Here, two large art nouveau stone angels invite passers-by into a miniscule church. The angels are by Siccardi, an early-twentieth-century artist who left other traces inside: at the base of the cupola you will see strange reliefs depicting the Masters of the Church, which seem to emerge from the living rock. This is the Church of San Salvatore, also known as the Church of the Hopeless, because it was here that people used to say their last prayers to the Virgin Mary before heading to the pawn shop to pawn their few possessions. A true hidden gem!

Borgo Canale, the artists' village
Borgo Canale, the artists' village

THE ARTISTS’ VILLAGE

Plenty of musicians and painters have lived in one of the city’s most beautiful streets, although, to tell the truth, we are outside the walls of the Upper City. We are on Via Borgo Canale and it is here, along this winding road that descends all the way down to Longuelo and Loreto, that many of Bergamo’s great artists once lived: walk the first stretch to beyond Porta S. Alessandro and look up over the doors of the houses to find out who I'm talking about.
Firstly, our composer Gaetano Donizetti (Casa Natale Donizetti), the ambassador of our city all over the world: here Gaetano lived in miserable conditions in a dark and bare house, but as he himself said, “As an owl I took flight” and once his talent was discovered, he travelled from capital city to capital city, performing in the greatest theatres of the early nineteenth century.
Next is the house of painter Paolo Vincenzo Bonomini, famous for his macabri, a sort of parade of living skeletons, now kept in the Church of S. Grata Inter Vites, to remind us that we are all equal in the face of death.
Do not miss the homes of Alfredo Piatti, famous cellist, and Bossi, organ producers for the churches of our city. And finally, my beloved Longaretti, who recently passed away. His studio remains, hidden in the alleyways of Bergamo’s Artists’ Village.
It is impossible not to stop by Rita Patelli’s Atelier if you go through Borgo Canale. It's a Lab where amazing creations are handmade using natural materials. Entering the shop you can feel the colours and smell from the different woods and Rita’s welcoming will make you feel like at home.

Rita Patelli's Atelier
Rita Patelli's Atelier

THE DOMUS AND THE HEADBAND SHOP

Bergamo has a Roman past and if you have visited the Bergomum exhibition, the city hidden beneath our feet will hold no more secrets for you.
But are you sure that you have found all traces of what our city was 2,000 years ago? I would recommend looking along the Corsarola, on Via Colleoni, for the shop where designer Evelyne Aymon sells beautiful headbands: while you are selecting your favourite headband, take a look at the floor, or rather, what is preserved beneath a sheet of protective glass: an incredible mosaic from the 1st century A.D. which used to belong to a Roman Domus that overlooked the ancient Decumanus. Absolutely unmissable!

Roman Domus (Via Colleoni)
Roman Domus (Via Colleoni)

THE STATUE OF TORQUATONE

There is no need to explore hidden streets here because this statue is in plain sight of all locals and visitors, yet few notice it and even fewer know who it depicts. We are in Piazza Vecchia, look towards the Palazzo della Ragione and you will see a grand and imposing man on a white pedestal down to the left. Allow me to introduce Torquato Tasso.
Hang on, I hear you cry, wasn’t he from Sorrento? What’s he doing in Bergamo’s most important piazza? I can explain: Torquato has Bergamasco roots! The Tasso family come from a small village called Camerata Cornello in the Val Brembana and Torquato often passed through our city, even declaring that he wished he had been born here. He was so in love with the hilltop city that he even dedicated an ode to Bergamo: you will find it engraved on a plaque on the Fontanone! This statue was commissioned to adorn the arcades of Palazzo Nuovo (our very white Angelo Mai Library) but the result was so rough and ungraceful that it was decided to place Torquatone (a nickname that suits the statue perfectly) on one of the pillars of Palazzo della Ragione, making it practically invisible but allowing its name to echo in the nearby Caffè del Tasso!

The Statue of Torquato (Piazza Vecchia)
The Statue of Torquato (Piazza Vecchia)


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Nadia Mangili