Not far from Milan, the city of Bergamo divides itself between the Upper Town, known as Città Alta, and the modern town, the Città Bassa. Whether you're looking for a labyrinth of Medieval alleys, breathtaking views or Renaissance art, the birth-city of famous Italian composer Gaetano Donizetti is sure to leave you speachless.
The Saint Egidio Church and Abbey, located in Fontanella, about 20 kilometres from the northern Italian city of Bergamo, aside from offering a sublime view over the surrounding plains, is a building of great historical interest.
The Church has a long and well-documented history, starting with Alberico da Prezzate, a member of the Bergamo nobility, who constructed the abbey in the year 1080 in honor of Saint Egidio.
With this grand gesture he hoped to guarantee his own entrance into heaven, along with the salvation of three others, “Teiperga, Isengarda and Giovanni”, though it is unclear whether these individuals were family members or simply dear friends.
Following its establishment and throughout the next century, the monastery played a central socio-economic role in the region.
However already by the 14th century, the structure was facing innumerable economic struggles, and in 1473 Pope Sixtus IV removed the monastic community from Fontanella. Control of the church would not be returned to the local diocese for nearly two centuries, until the year 1630. In 1699, Saint Egidio became the parish church of Fontanella, while the monastery came under private control.
More recently, in 1998 the Bishop of Bergamo, Roberto Amadei, ordered the construction of an episcopal chapel and assigned a rector to the church, in order to ensure that it continued to effectively carry out its religious functions in the community.
In this same period, the church underwent a significant restoration in preparation for the Millennium Jubilee.
With nearly 1000 years of history behind it, the Saint’Egidio church remains one of the region’s most important religious structures and communities, representing one of the most well-preserved examples of romanic architecture in a style typical of the area in and around Bergamo.
Domenico Gaetano Maria Donizetti (Gaetano Donizetti as we know him) was born in Bergamo in 1797 to an extremely poor family. His life changed when he was taken under the wing of Johann Simon Mayr, Maestro di Cappella and founder of the music school for poor children at the Santa Maria Maggiore Church. Mayr educated, protected and sent him to Bologna for further musical training.
Although he composed a vast quantity of sacred music, Donizetti’s natural instinct was for theatre.
Mayr himself described him as a “thunderbolt at composing” in his musical farse, “Il piccolo compositore di musica”. Donizetti’s first successful opera was Enrico di Borgogna, which first appeared in 1818 at the Teatro San Luca, in Venice. During the following 12 years he composed over 31 operas, most of them produced in Naples and now forgotten.
In 1830 his Anna Bolena, produced in Milan, gained him international fame.
This was followed by the even more successful L’elisir d’amore (The Elixir of Love) and by Lucrezia Borgia. After a brief period in Paris, Donizetti returned to Naples for the production of his tragic masterpiece, Lucia di Lammermoor, which premiered on 26 September 1835.
In 1828 Donizetti had married Virginia Vasseli. He never truly recovered after her death, soon after the stillbirth of a son, in 1837. None of the three children born to them had survived birth.
He remained in Naples until 1838, when municipal censors objected to the production of his Poliuto, which dealt with a Christian martyr, on the grounds that the sacred subject was unsuitable for the stage. For this reason he moved to Paris, where he revived some of his best operas and became even more popular. His operas were performed by some of the leading sopranos of the day, including Jenny Lind, Adelina Patti, Marcella Sembrich and Emma Albani.
His later years were marked by increasing physical and mental discomfort.
He produced his last important opera, Dom Sébastien at the Paris Opéra in 1843 under the strain of constant headaches and recurring lapses of mental capacity. His condition, caused by syphilis, worsened, leaving him deprived of willpower, speech, and physical control as a patient in a private asylum until his nephew Andrea brought him back to Bergamo, where he died in 1848.
Donizetti’s life, from rags to world fame, brought him enormous success and considerable rewards but also unimaginable misery and suffering.
His popularity continued until the end of the century, but by 1914 his operas had almost disappeared from the repertory, overshadowed by the more substantial masterpieces of Verdi and Richard Wagner. In the 1950s there was a revival of interest in his works, especially Lucia di Lammermoor, L’elisir d’Amore and Don Pasquale and his unforgettable melodies are now part of every great singer’s repertoire.
Donizetti’s birthplace, a poor house in the old Borgo Canale, is now a museum and can be visited on Saturdays and Sundays from 10.00 to 13.00 and from 15.00 to 18.00. Visits on other days are possible by appointment.
Bergamo’s Duomo, also known as the Cathedral of Saint Alexander and seat of the Bishop of Bergamo, is the religious heart of this charming northern Italian city.
Construction on the cathedral in its present form began in the year 1459, and was completed after several interruptions more than two hundred years later, in 1693. However, there is ample evidence in the ruins beneath the church of a structure of similar dimensions that dates to the 5th century.
The beautifully decorated interiors follow a Latin cross ground plan and develop on a single nave.
Aside from the magnificent statues and frescoes that adorn the cathedral, a not-to-miss piece is the central altar, designed by famous Italian architect Filippo Juvarra.
Originally, the church was dedicated to Saint Vincent.
Curiously, a second basilica dedicated to Saint Alexander already existed in Bergamo during the medieval period, creating an anomalous situation in which the city had two cathedrals. The basilica of Saint Alexander was ultimately destroyed in the year 1561 to make way for the construction of walls around the city, a project put into motion by the Venetians to protect Bergamo from attacks by the nearby Duchy of Milan.
Subsequently, the church that was once Saint Vincent definitively became the Cathedral of Saint Alexander and Duomo of Bergamo in 1697, giving the city a definitive name for the beautiful building we admire today.
The great Michelangelo Merisi was born in Caravaggio in September 1571 and was always known by the name of his hometown. He started working as an apprentice to Simone Peterzano, an artist working in Milan, and moved to Rome in the early 1590s, where he specialised in still lifes and later in half-length figures.
His Boy with a Basket of Fruit is one of the most famous canvases dating back to this period.
He worked as an assistant to painters of much smaller talent until 1595, when he decided to set out on his own and began to sell his pictures through a dealer. This brought his work to the attention of Cardinal Francesco del Monte, a prelate of great influence in the papal court, who took him under his wing and invited him to live in his house.
It was probably through the Cardinal that he obtained the commission to decorate the Contarelli Chapel in the French church in Rome with scenes from the life of St Matthew.
These paintings were his first public work.
Their extreme realism and dramatic contrasts of light and shade (chiaroscuro) caused a sensation and secured Caravaggio a series of prestigious commissions, mainly religious works. At the age of 24 he was affirmed as pictor celeberrimus, a “renowned painter”, with important protectors and clients.
Works done in this period include The Crucifixion of St. Peter (1601), The Conversion of St. Paul, The Deposition of Christ (1602–04) and the Death of the Virgin (1601–03). Although extremely popular, his paintings caused fierce criticism by church officials: his common people, plain and muscular working men, contrasted with the graceful images popular in much of Counter-Reformation art.
Caravaggio led a tumultuous life. He was notorious for brawling, as attested by the numerous transcripts of his police records and trial proceedings.
As a result of a fight in 1606 he killed a young man named Ranuccio Tomassoni. Previously his high-placed patrons had protected him but this time they could do nothing. Caravaggio, outlawed, fled to Naples where, thanks to the patron of the influential Colonna family, he produced important works like The Madonna of the Rosary and The Seven Works of Mercy.
Subsequently he spent periods of time in Malta, Syracuse and Messina, before returning to Naples in 1609. Important works from these years are The Beheading of St. John the Baptist, The Burial of St. Lucy, The Resurrection of Lazarus, The Adoration of the Shepherds and David with the Head of Goliath.
He died in 1610 in unclear circumstances, probably of pneumonia, on his way to receive his pardon for the murder committed: a document granting him clemency arrived from Rome three days after his death.
Restless, rebellious and a murderer, Caravaggio's short and violent life matched the drama of his paintings.
He painted shadowed, realistic pieces that showed the full range of human suffering and redemption. His paintings unsettled und fascinated his contemporaries by confronting them with the truth that sensuality, pain, violence, innocence and death all coexist and possess beauty.
Today his works can be admired not only in Rome and Florence but in important museums throughout the world including Paris, Madrid, Vienna, Berlin and New York. And it all started in the small village of Caravaggio, near Bergamo!
Little is known about the origins and date of construction for this beautiful castle and historians are stillsearching for the materials providing that information.
The original core of the castle was probably built between the 6th and the 9th century, although the first written document that testifies to the presence of the castle dates back to 1032.
During the 12th century the castle was occupied by troops from the Comune of Milan but later fell, alternating between the Visconti and Torriani families.
The present structure dates back to the 14th century and during the following centuries the castle changed hands so many times that it’s difficult to report every change of ownership.
The original defensive function is still reflected in the castle's exterior. The castle has a harmonious square plan surrounded by a moat and perfectly preserved walls, with two of the original four towers still in place. The keep can be accessed through a drawbridge and the moat is the only one in the Bergamo area with actual water in it.
The interior has undergone several notable changes, having been embellished by 15th and 17th century frescoes, while the lateradditions of a loggia and a staircase made it more suitable for residential use.
The castle was privately owned until 2000, when it was purchased by the township of Pagazzano, with renovations beginning soon thereafter that are still on-going.
Today, the castle houses the museum of rural culture, with some 2000 items relating to country life in the Pagazzano area and a multimedia exhibition on the restoration of the building describing the on-going works and the project in general.
Immediately across the moat is the exclusive Corte Berghemina, an elegant location that can be hired for weddings and private events.
If you're looking to visit, the castle has very limited opening times, so make sure to plan your visit in advance.
The dairy business has been a long-standing tradition in Bergamo’s Val Taleggio and strachìtunt is one of the fantastic cheeses coming from this region.
The name strachìtunt comes from the Bergamascan dialect for stracchino tondo (a shortly-aged cheese made from cow’s milk), but don’t let the similarity in name confuse you; this is a blue cheese.
Made from whole cow’s milk using an ancient technique where two layers of curd are brought together, Strachitunt is made by combining the “cold curd” (which is produced in the evening and allowed to drain for minimum 12 hours) with the morning “hot curd”.This process produces a round, flat-surfaced cheese 25-28 centimetres wide and 15-18 centimetres high.
The cheese is aged for a minimum of 75 days during which holes are made on both sides of the wheel with a copper needle.
These holes allow air to enter and promote the natural development of the characteristic blue-green mould between the 2 different layers of curd.The amount of mould can vary from wheel to wheel and will never be uniform. While to the untrained eye this might seem to be a defect, it is actually a tell-tale sign of the natural production process.
Unlike other blue cheeses, strachìtunt does not require the addition of any additional ingredients to produce the mould.
While the minimum ageing period is typically 75 days, most connoisseurs would suggest 3 months to allow the best development of the blue-green veins which give the cheese its mild to piquant flavour.
When you cut into the thin rind, you will discover a cheese that is soft, marbled, and varies from mild to piquant. With an aroma that is common to the blue cheese family, strachìtunt has notes that are slightly lactic. It ranges from sweet to intense depending on the length of time it’s been aged, but you can be certain that it will always be creamy with a pleasant aftertaste.
Almost forgotten over the last decade, strachitunt has lately gained the attention of both Italian and international connoisseurs, even earning itself trips to international fairs in New York and Tokyo. Nonetheless, it remains a niche product, even in its own area of production, and isn't easy to find.
The Venetian Walls were built by the Serenissima Republic of Venice in the second half of the 16th century to defend the city of Bergamo from attacks by the powerful - and very close - Duchy of Milan.
They separate, both physically and symbolically, the Città Alta (Upper Town), built up on the hills, from the Città Bassa (Lower Town). This hierarchical structure of the urban area, including a walled civitas (city) and the suburbia on the plain underneath, was already part of the Roman settlement and remained basically unchanged in time.
In 1428 Bergamo was incorporated into the Venetian State and remained part of it for the next three and a half centuries.
It was chosen for its strategic position at the mouth of two valleys, the Brembana and Seriana, and soon became an important trading centre for goods moving between the port of Venice and central Europe.
The most important work under the Venetian rule was the building of the walls with their ramparts (1560-1623), which still mark the urban skyline with their imposing structure.
The new massive fortifications permanently changed the urban settlement of the town: almost a quarter of the city's houses on the hill (approximately 250 buildings) were demolished to make room for the huge walls. Thus, the Città Alta was ultimately separated from the surrounding suburban areas and increasingly became a showcase for the powerful, whereas the Città Bassa further pursued its manufacturing and commercial vocation.
Works on the imposing plan began on 31 July 1561.
Four thousand demolition workers were employed, while a guard of 550 soldiers watched over the streets and squares to prevent disorders by the local population who fought fiercely against the demolitions.
The original plan to reinforce the old walls and build a series of ramparts was quickly abandoned, and it was decided to build a completely new stone wall along the entire course, which meant almost six kilometres of wall.
Works continued for almost thirty years with long interruptions during which it seemed that Venice had lost interest in the fortress of Bergamo.
The commitment and costs rose enormously while the Republic had to face the growing threat by the Turkish empire. The walls were completed only in 1588 when San Marco Fort, a powerful structure with military quarters and powder magazines, completed the perimeter of the upper walls, while 100 cannons were mounted on the ramparts.
Fortunately for the city and its inhabitants, the walls were never needed.
The Venetian walls were left to civilian use and eventually demilitarized from the beginning of the last century. Thoroughly cleaned and partly restored in 1976, today the walls contribute to the unique beauty of the Lombard city's picturesque landscape.
In 1984, other sections of the fortifications were restored and a huge area directly under the walls was converted into a park. If you're looking to visit the upper town, the Venetian walls offer access to the city through four gates: Porta di Sant’Agostino, Porta di Sant’Alessandro, Porta Garibaldi and Porta San Giacomo.
A curiosity: all the doors depict the lion of St. Mark to affirm Venetian supremacy over the city of Bergamo.
From the mountain valley of Taleggio, near Bergamo, this famous northern Italian cheese has today spread to a wider area comprising Lombardy, Piedmont and Veneto.
Today an internationally known product, Taleggio is one of the oldest Italian cheese varieties, dating back to the 9th century.
Originally produced only in the cold season during stops along the transhumance routes, this typical Italian cheese was made using small amounts of whole milk from the cows who were tired from the journey. This explains its original name, Stracchino (stracche means tired in Italian dialect), which now designates a different kind of cheese.
Later shepherds started producing Taleggio at home as well, ageing it in caves for forty days and often using it for bartering.
Today, Taleggio can be found all year round and it is manufactured both industrially and by local producers in the Orobiche valleys, using the traditional method they learned from their ancestors. In Lombardy, the production provinces include Bergamo, Brescia, Como, Cremona, Lecco, Lodi, Milan and Pavia, while outside of Lombardy the cheese is produced solely in Piedmont (Novara) and Veneto (Treviso).
This tasty cheese has a thin, soft crust - which you can eat - and a thick, creamy texture; its flavour is mild and tangy with a strong pungent aroma.
Its rectangular shape sets it apart from other varieties of cheese.
It is formed into blocks and stored on wooden boards in a grid pattern. Now a Slow Food “presidium”, it has been granted DOP certification (protected designation of origin).
Local producers offer their products to shops and restaurants but Taleggio can also be found at farmers’ markets and fairs, including the Taleggio Fair in Ballabio, which takes place every year.
Taleggio makes a great table cheese, both with bread and fresh fruit like apples, pears or sweet grapes.
As it easily melts it is also a precious ingredient for traditional recipes such as risotto, polenta, ravioli or lasagne. It can be used to prepare delicious veal stews, chicken dishes, vegetable pies, salads and even cheese cakes! And of course don’t forget to pair it with the right wine, such as a good Nebbiolo, to exalt its characteristics.
Accademia Carrara was founded in 1794 as a combined art gallery and school of Painting, at the initiative of count Giacomo Carrara (1714–1796), who commissioned the creation of the accademia to house his rich art collection ofmainly Renaissance paintings.
Count Carrara, whose only heir had died just a few days after his birth, also made provision for the future support of the academy, leaving his whole estate to it in his will.
Further donations over the years enriched the collection, which now totals some 1,800 paintings of different styles and periods as well as an important collection of prints, drawings and fine decorative art objects including fans, porcelain, small bronzes and medals.
The building housing the gallery was completed in 1810 following a design by the architect Simone Elia and has remained substantially unchanged throughout the centuries. At the beginning of the twentieth century a new wing was added in the back garden to accommodate the School of Fine Arts.
After lengthy and comprehensive restoration the museum was reopened on 23 April 2015.
The present layout allows visitors to follow an itinerary through the following themes: Masterpieces, Lorenzo Lotto, Giovan Battista Moroni, Fashion, Faces, Saints, Women, Landscapes and Love.
Among the masterpieces are important paintings by Andrea Mantegna, Pisanello, Crivelli, Bellini, Raphael, Botticelli, Titian and Canaletto while the other itineraries offer different perspectives, where works of art by different artists and from different periods are grouped on the basis of a shared theme.
Explanations about the different items and details about the artists’ life are provided both in Italian and in English.
The gallery is connected with Accademia Carrara di Belle Arti di Bergamo, which is one of Italy’s oldest fine arts academies. It is part of the Italian university system and offers a range of undergraduate degrees in fine arts and new technologies (video, multimedia, sound design, etc.).
The Gallery is open every day but check the website for opening hours.
Camerata Cornello is a small village in the high Brembana Valley not far from the town of Bergamo. Its frazione Cornello dei Tasso, part of the same township, is one of the villages in the province of Bergamo that has best preserved its medieval structure.
One of the hamlets in the network “Borghi piu belli d’Italia” (most beautiful villages of Italy), the village lies on a hill approximately 600m above sea level - the ideal place for the population to escape their enemies during the barbaric invasions.
During the middle Ages the village was the centre of trade with the Valtellina along the Via Mercatorum.
Camerata Cornello had an important market. It became part of the Venetian republic in 1482. Following the construction of the new valley road in 1592, the village was cut off from traffic, losing its important function as a link between the middle and upper valley. The resulting isolation helped preserve the original layout of the village, which is still completely pedestrian and cannot be reached by car.
The layout of the village is characterized by the superimposing of different levels of buildings.
The third level has simple houses and more elaborate palazzi while the Romanesque church of Saint Cornelius and Cyprian dominates from the upper level. It contains some remarkably well preserved fifteenth and sixteenth-century frescos and is topped by a beautiful Romanesque bell tower. The lower level has a row of houses, the second level a street with porticos, topped by stone arcades and covered by a wooden beam ceiling and paved with cobblestones.
The ruins of Palazzo Tasso rise on a rock on the southern side of the village.
Despite recent restoration not much remains of the original structure of the palace, which served to watch over the valley for defence purposes.
The influential Tasso family is well-known not only because of famous sixteenth-century poet Torquato Tasso but also because they can be considered the founders of the modern postal service. The family played an important role in the founding and management of the Couriers Company of the Serenissima in 1305 and literally held the monopoly for all dispatch activities between Italy, the German Empire and other European countries in the following centuries.
Their fortune is tied in particular to Emperor Maximilian I, who commissioned them to arrange the transportation of mail on behalf of the Holy Roman Empire.
The family’s vital role in the development of a courier service is documented in the tiny Museum of the Tasso Family and the Postal Service.
For more information on the museum and opening hours, please visit the museum’s official website.
Note: The village can be reached through a pathway starting from the parking area. It might be steep at times but the climb is well worth it.
The Rotonda di San Tomé is one of the rare examples of rotunda churches (a church with a circular ground plan); an architectural option that remains mysterious to this day, and to which no historical documents bear record.
Some scholars believe that San Tomé (Saint Thomas) was built between 1130 and 1150, which would date it to the era of the Lombards, an ancient tribe with a noteworthy propensity toward the emerging Christianity. In fact, a great many of the Romanesque churches in the north of Italy are of Lombardic origin. However, there is no exact historical proof of this, indeed other scholars attribute San Tomé to the Frankish era.
There are several reasons to believe, though, that San Tomé has been built on top of an ancient pagan temple, dedicated to the Roman deity Silvanus, protector of woods and fields. In fact, an altar dedicated to Silvanus has been found in the nearby vicinity.
The circular shape of the building could also lead to believe that is once was a temple, and the proximity to a large forest area would seem to confirm its pagan origin.
Whatever the origin, the architecture of this amazing building is spectacular. The circular ground plan and the pyramidal structure arranged in three overlapping cylinders of decreasing size stand as clear evidence of extremely skilled craftsmanship.
The second cylinder consists of the women’s gallery and has flat pilasters on the walls, the third cylinder is the lantern, with four graceful mullioned windows. The lantern bestows a sense of lightness to the building with the almost mythical light that flows through, captivating the spectator.
The inside is rich with sculptures and Romanesque capitals; simple, essential and absolutely elegant.
Whoever was behind the making of this church, it had to have been someone with a profound knowledge of the artistic movements travelling through Europe at the time, but also someone capable of maintaining his own expressive independence, making the rotunda a unique work of art in the Italian Romanesque landscape.
Located in the town of Urgnano, just outside of Bergamo, Castello di Urgnano was built in 1354 at the request of Giovanni Visconti.
Surrounded by a moat, essential for warding off enemies, the castle is made entirely of brick.
The castle has a square plan with a tower at each of the four corners, although today only two of the original four remain. There are two entrances: one on the north side and the other on the south side.
The overall area inside the building is divided in half. The west side of the yard, c-shaped and bordered on three sides, opens into the various rooms of the castle. The east side includes a rooftop garden featuring nine statues of dwarf caricatures - a typical expression of grotesque architecture. The garden and its statues are a special characteristic of the castle, as others in the province of Bergamo do not share this particular trait.
The interiors boast wooden ceilings with decorations from the sixteenth century, which are still intact.
The castle is also the subject of a mysterious legend:the story goes that an old stableman disappeared mysteriously during the night between October 31 and November 1 of an unknown year, while riding on the castle grounds. Legend has it that every year, at the stroke of midnight on October 31, the ghost of the stableman wanders inside the castle looking for a bit of fodder for his horses.
In 1428, the castle became the property of Venice when Bergamo fell under the rule of the Serenissima Republic. The edifice would subsequently pass into the ownership of Bartolomeo Colleoni and, after Colleoni’s death, into the hands of the Albani family.
It was the Albani family that left the most notable imprint on the history of the castle, especially Giovanni Gerolamo Albani.
After the death of his wife, Albani became cardinal and this most likely led to the historical events that took place during the Inquisition. The castle would become the setting for many of the events that occurred during this period: today, hanging above the stairway to the north tower is the plaque in memory of Michele Ghisleri’s (later Pope Pius V) period of refuge in the castle.
Over the years, the castle would pass through the hands of several owners and would be the setting for many battles to gain control of the property. However, since 1953 the property has been under the ownership the city of Bergamo.
This means that today, thankfully, visitors don’t need an army to enter the castle; they only need to make reservations in advance!
For those interested in high fashion, Trussardi is undoubtedly a household name. The company – and indeed, the Made in Italy label at large – has Nicola Trussardi (1942-1999) to thank for the brand’s international notoriety and popularity.
Grandson of this leather glove manufacturer’s founder, Nicola was born in Bergamo and became involved in the business after the death of his older brother in 1970, and took over its management entirely when his father died in the late 1970’s.
By 1985, the company was valued at 182 million dollars.
Under Nicola’s direction, what was once a small, family run line of handmade leather gloves grew into a multinational corporation selling apparel and accessories for men, women and children in 120 franchises around the world.
Throughout his career, Nicola was one of the chief promoters of Italian fashion and the Made in Italy label. Before his untimely death in a car accident in 1999, Trussardi was working on a project called città della moda, or “fashion city”, which sought to reserve an area of Milan to be occupied exclusively by the boutiques of Milanese fashion designers, and would have been the site of all fashion shows for Milanese brands. Following his death, the project lost momentum and was ultimately abandoned.
Just a few years prior to his death, in 1996, Nicola created the Nicola Trussardi Foundation, a non-profit institution founded with the aim of promoting contemporary art and culture.
The Foundation remains active today under the direction of Nicola’s daughter, Beatrice, and continues to organize temporary art exhibitions, promote the restoration of historic buildings and sites throughout Milan and collaborate with other art institutions around the world to keep art and culture alive and relevant.
Designed by architect Giovanni Francesco Lucchini, Teatro Donizetti was built in the 1780s.Originally known as Teatro Riccardi, it was named after famous Bergamo composer Donizetti in 1897, to celebrate his birth centenary.
In 1797 the original theatre was destroyed by a fire that was possibly started by arson.
Lucchini was asked to design a new structure to replace the old one and the new house opened on 30th June 1800.
Later the façade was completely remodelled under the supervision of architect Pietro Via. The present structure, finished in 1903, has a horseshoe shape with three tiers of boxes and two galleries. Both the ceiling and the boxes are adorned with beautiful frescoes by Francesco Domeneghini.
Since its opening the Theatre has always been appreciated for its high quality opera productions and is considered one of the best traditional opera houses in Italy. The first opera performed at the theatre was Giuseppe Sarti's Medonte in 1784, while the opera house was still under construction. Donizetti’s first opera, Il Pigmalione, composed in 1816, was given its world premiere at the theatre on 13 October 1960.
Today, besides a rich opera season, the theatre’s programme includes a remarkable number of dramatic productions, as well as operettas and ballet. The Bergamo Jazz Festival and the prestigious Festival Pianistico Internazionale Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli also take place in the theatre.
Seminars and teaching workshops, as well as occasional exhibitions and meetings with the artists are part of the rich programme of cultural activities offered by the theatre. Other activities are organised by the Fondazione Donizetti, which runs a research centre in Bergamo, aiming to collect documentary sources and original material in order to study the life and works of Gaetano Donizetti and his times.
The theatre, situated in the lower town, can only be visited by booking a tour with official Bergamo guides.
Located in Cavernago, just outside of Bergamo, Castello Malpaga is one of the most important buildings in the region of Lombardy.
Overlooking 300 hectares of farmland, its imposing structure is pristine beauty and priceless historical value.
The edifice was purchased from the city of Bergamo in 1456 by Bartolomeo Colleoni - the courageous commander and captain of the Republic of Venice – who estructured the ruined castle on the property and turned it into an immense and impenetrable fortress with lodging for his soldiers as well as a sumptuous residence for himself.
Bartolomeo sought to demonstrate his prestige and power through the construction of works that inspired greatness and would be patronized by those who held his same appreciation for beauty, culture, and art.
As testimony to the beautiful and courtly atmosphere of life inside the castle, the interior walls are almost entirely covered with magnificent frescoes. While unfortunately some of the frescoes, including those in the banquet hall have suffered damage, many of them are still in the condition to inspire the awe and admiration of visitors.
On the upper levels, the bedroom of Colleoni was built in the essence of form and function.
The windows were barred to prevent entry from the outside and there is no fireplace since he wanted to avoid the risk of fire damage to his small, beloved, 4th century sacred fresco - it was also a way to ensure that his enemies couldn’t enter through the chimney! Another peculiar aspect was that Colleoni slept sitting up. This guaranteed better digestion, especially with the heavy meals consumed, and it was also an ingenuous defense tactic: he slept with a sword beside his bed, fearing an attack.
Bartolomeo Colleoni followed Renaissance fashion and made his castle a court, a luxurious palace, and the location that saw historical events and the presence of great men and women.
All successive leaders would follow Bartolomeo Colleoni’s example.
With large sums of money at their disposal, they were able to finance grandiose civil and military works, acquire and commission works of art, and sponsor Italy’s two greatest poets, Dante and Petrarch.
Today, Castello Malpaga and the entire surrounding property are part of a noteworthy redevelopment project taken on by the Per Malpaga ('for Malpaga') organization.
The castle offers not only guided visits and an idyllic location for weddings, it is also the setting of fantastic and extravagant events.
One of these is the colourful recreation of a medieval banquet, during which supper is held inside the Salone dei Banchetti where guests are served by a wait staff dressed in traditional dress whilst eating with wooden utensils. It is an evening designed to fill not only the stomach, but the culture vulture’s appetite as well!
Defined by the UNESCO World Heritage Committe as an “extraordinary example of the phenomenon of the workers’ villages, the most complete and best preserved of south Europe", the Villaggio Crespi d’Adda or Crespi Workers’ Village is a treasure of northern Italy, situated near the town of Bergamo in the Lombardy region.
Founded in 1878 by the owner of an adjacent cotton mill, Cristoforo Benigno Crespi and his son Silvio, the town is a well-preserved example of a late 19th century “company town”.
These settlements were designed to meet the social needs of industry workers in a time when support at a state level was nearly non-existent. Employees at Crespi’s cotton mill were provided homes and gardens in the nearby town centre.
Workers’ children were educated free of charge at the town schools, and healthcare was provided by village doctors and clinics. Residents could spend their free time at the community centre, church, theatre, public baths or indoor swimming pool.
The Crespis presided over their town and factory from a family castle at the edge of town and saw to the upkeep of public structures and services.
By the standards of the time, life was comfortable and modern – Crespi d’Adda was even the first town in Italy to have public electricity - and overall, residents enjoyed a well-balanced existence dictated by the rhythms of the factory.
Though the Crespi family was forced to sell the town under fascism in 1929 and the cotton mill closed its doors in 2004, the village is still inhabited today by many descendants of the original workers.
The town has been a UNESCO World Heritage site since the year 1995.
The church of Santa Maria Maggiore was built thanks to the donations of the citizens who outlived the famine and subsequent plague of 1133, as a tribute to the Holy Mary who they believed had saved their lives.
Constructions began in 1137 under the direction of master builder Magistero Fredo on the site of a pre-existing 8th century church which, in turn, had been erected over a Roman temple.
The Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore is a surprisingly pleasant mishmash of styles.
The main structure of the church is in late Romanesque style while later additions were made in the Baroque and Renaissance periods. The façade has dual colour elements (black and white and rose and white) typical of Tuscan architecture and interesting trompe l’oeil patterns.
The octagonal baptistery was built in 1340 and positioned inside the church. It was later moved, first in 1661 and then set in its present spot in 1898.
The church has no main entrance and can be accessed by two side gates, Giovanni da Campione's porch, which is supported by marble columns standing on lions and Isobello’s Porta della Fortuna, with a fresco of Mary's Nativity attributed to Andrea Previtali.
The interior has maintained the original Romanesque Greek cross plan with a central nave and two side aisles.
The rich decoration, however, is mainly from the 16th and 17th centuries, with some notable 14th century frescoes depicting scenes from the life of St Aegidius, The Last Supper and the Tree of Life. Particularly noteworthy are the tapestries hanging on the walls: some of them were executed in Florence in the 16th century while others came from Antwerp in a later period. Luca Giordano’s painting, the Passage of the Red Sea (1691) can also be admired.
The presbytery boasts a wooden choir designed by Bernardo Zenale and Andrea Previtali with amazing marquetry made after Lorenzo Lotto’s design. The use of different types of wood creates a beautiful polychrome effect. Unfortunately, the panels are normally covered and can be admired only on certain days, so make sure to plan your trip in advance if you’re looking to admire the incredible woodwork on the choir’s structure.
A curiosity: composer Gaetano Donizetti and his teacher Simone Mayr are both buried inside the Basilica.
As this church is so astonishingly decorated, with so much to take in, it’s best visited during one of the offered guided tours. Alternatively, simply walk around on your own and be amazed by the opulence of the decorations. The Church is open daily with varying visiting hours depending on the season.
Born on November 25, 1881 in Sotto il Monte, Bergamo, Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli was one of 13 children in a family of farmers.
While he was attending elementary school, he was tutored by a priest of Carvico, and at the age of twelve he entered the seminary. He was given a scholarship, which allowed him to go on to the Apollinaris in Rome where he studied under (among others) Umberto Benigni, the well-known Church historian.
Although his studies were interrupted when he served in the Italian Army, he would later return to the seminary, complete his work for a doctorate in theology, and was ordained in 1904.
Roncalli Continued studying canonical law and he was appointed secretary to the new bishop of Bergamo, Giacomo Radini-Tedeschi. Roncalli would serve this social-minded prelate for nine years where he acquired first-hand experience and a profound understanding of the problems of the working class.
In 1915, with Italy’s entry in World War I, Roncalli was recalled to military service as a chaplain and he would serve until 1918. Despite his many duties as spiritual directory of the seminary, he opened a hostel for the students of Bergamo. This was also the period when he began his research for a multi-volume work on the Episcopal visit to Bergamo by St. Charles Borromeo.
In 1921 he was given the position of archbishop of Arepolis and apostolic delegate to Bulgaria.
At this time he was in Rome where he worked to restructure the Society for the Propagation of the Faith. One of his principal concerns was the problems of the Eastern Churches. This would lead to his transfer to Turkey and Greece as apostolic delegate and he set up an office in Istanbul dedicated to looking for prisoners of war.
In 1944 he was sent to Paris so that he could assist in the Church’s post-war efforts in France.
Roncalli became the first permanent observer of the Holy See at UNESCO, addressing its sixth and seventh general assembly in 1951 and 1952. In 1953 he was appointed cardinal-patriarch of Venice, and while he was expecting to spend his remaining years there performing pastoral work, he found himself called to Rome to take part in the conclave: the conclave that elected him pope.
On October 20, 1958 the cardinals who elected Angelo Roncalli as pope were convinced that, due to his age of 76 and reputation, he would only serve as a transitional pope. Little did they know that Roncalli, who chose the name John and would become Pope John XXIII, would spend his time as pope inspiring a moment of great change in history.
A new age for the Church would begin.
Angelo Roncalli chose the name John in honour of his precursor and because it was the name of a long line of popes whose pontificates had been short.
When he spoke to the people for the first time, Pope John XXIII voiced his desire to reunite Christians who had strayed from the Catholic Church and his hopes for world peace.
In his coronation address, he expressed his wholehearted and sincere intention to be a pastoral pope since “all other human gifts and accomplishments—learning, practical experience, diplomatic finesse—can broaden and enrich pastoral work but they cannot replace it”.
He was a fervent believer in equality and his feelings were summed up in his famous statements and the many passionate speeches he made during his pontificate.
One of these was in the middle of the night when he announced the Second Vatican Council to the crowd gathered in St. Peter’s Square. In was on this occasion that he spoke one of his most beloved and memorable quotations: “Dear all, returning home, you will find your children: give your children a caress and say, this is the caress of the Pope!”
To the surprise of many Pope John XXIII died of stomach cancer on June 3, 1963, four and a half years after his election and two months after the completion of his final and famed encyclical, Pacem in Terris. On 6 June 1963, he was laid to rest in the Vatican grottoes beneath Saint Peter’s Basilica and soon after the proposal for his canonisation was introduced on November 18, 1965 by his successor, Pope Paul VI.
He was beatified on September 3, 2000 by Pope John Paul II and was moved from the grottoes to the altar of Saint Jerome where all the faithful could see him.
On July 5, 2013, Pope Francis ignored the traditionally prerequisite second miracle and declared John XXIII a saint based on his merits of opening the Second Vatican Council.
Today, Pope John XXIII is still affectionately known as Il Papa Buono or “the good pope”.
In response to the requests from people all over the world, Pope Frances added the commemoration of pope Pope John XXIII’s death as a day of remembrance.
More than a pope, Pope John XXIII will always be remembered in the hearts of many not only for his dedication to the Catholic Church, but even more so, for the love and devotion he showed to his followers.
Here is one of his famous speeches, where Roncalli affectionately speaks of children:
Built between 1471 and 1475, the Colleoni chapel was commissioned by mercenary condottiere Bartolomeo Colleoni, one of the most influential military leaders under the Republic of Venice, who led the Serenissima’s armies in campaigns across northern Italy.
Erected following designs by Giovanni Antonio Amadeo, it is one of the finest examples of Lombard Renaissance and was built partly at the expense of the Church of Santa Maria Maggiore, whose sacristy was demolished to make room for the new chapel.
In fact, as you stand in front of the chapel you might be deceived into thinking that you are entering the church itself.
The chapel’s ornate pink and white marble façade, lavishly decorated with pillars, twisted columns and statues, and the rich interior, testify to the wealth and power of its owner. It is certainly not the resting place of a modest man!
Inside, you will find an equestrian wooden statue of the condottiere by artist Sixtus of Nuremberg, standing on top of two sarcophagi, one above the other, occupying most of the space.
In the statue, Colleoniholds a baton of command, the original of which lies alongside his body in the tomb.
Frescoes by Giovan Battista Tiepolo decorate the walls.
On the left wall is found the beautiful marble tomb of daughter Medea, who died prematurely of a lung infection. Legend has it that Medea had a pet sparrow, which also diedshortly after the girl’s death. They were both buried and later transferred to the chapel in the 19th century: today the remains of the little bird can be found in the chapel under a glass dome.
As for Colleoni, for centuries it was believed that the condottiere's remains had been buried elsewhere, as the sarcophagus appeared empty. However, in 1969 they were discovered, hidden under a plaster cover.
The chapel is small and might seem overwhelmingly decorated but it’s well worth the visit.
Admission is free but no inside photography is allowed.