Exploring the Città Bassa
Most visitors scurry through Bergamo’s lower, newer town on their way to the Città Alta, but you may want to pause long enough to explore its main thoroughfare, Corso Sentierone, with its mishmash of architectural styles (16th-century porticos, the Mussolini-era Palazzo di Giustizia, and two mock Doric temples); it’s a pleasant place to linger over espresso in a pavement cafe. The Accademia Carrara (Piazza Giacomo Carrara 82, www.lacarrara.it; tel. 035/234-396) is worth a peek for its fine collection of Raphaels, Bellinis, Botticellis, and Canolettos. Città Bassa’s 19th-century Teatro Gaetano Donizetti is the hub of Bergamo’s lively cultural scene, with a fall opera season and a winter-to-spring season of dramatic performances; for details, call the theater at (tel) 035-416-0611 (www.teatrodonizetti.it).
Exploring the Città Alta
The Piazza Vecchia looks like something out of one of local hero Gaetano Donizetti’s opera sets; this hauntingly beautiful square was the hub of Bergamo’s political and civic life from medieval times. The 12th-century Palazzo della Ragione (Court of Justice) was built by the Venetians, and its three graceful ground-floor arcades are embellished with the Lion of Saint Mark, symbol of the Venetian Republic, visible above the tiny 16th-century balcony and reached by a covered staircase to the right of the palace. Across the piazza, the Biblioteca Civica (Public Library).
Piazza del Duomo is reached through the archways of the Palazzo della Ragione and is home to the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore ★★ (Piazza Vecchio 6; www.fondazionemia.it; (tel) 035-223-327). The basilica itself is entered through an ornate portico supported by Venetian lions; the interior is a masterpiece of ornately Baroque giltwork hung with Renaissance tapestries. Gaetano Donizetti, the wildly popular composer of frothy operas, was born in Bergamo in 1797 and is entombed here in a marble sarcophagus that’s as excessive as the rest of the church’s decor. The oft-forgotten Tempietto of Santa Croce is tucked to the left of the basilica entrance, with its endearing fragments of a fresco of “The Last Supper.” From April through October the basilica is open Tuesday to Saturday 9am to 12:30pm and 2:30 to 6pm, and Sunday 9am to 1pm and 3 to 6pm; November through March it’s open Tuesday through Saturday 9am to 12:30pm and 2:30 to 5pm; admission is free.
Most impressive, however, is the Cappella Colleoni ★★★ (Piazza del Duomo; (tel) 035-210-061; free admission), found to the right of the basilica doors and entered through a highly elaborate pink-and-white marble facade. Bartolomeo Colleoni was a Bergamasco condottiero (mercenary) who fought for the Venetians; as a reward for his loyalty he was given Bergamo as his own private fiefdom in 1455. His elaborate funerary chapel was designed by Giovanni Antonio Amadeo, who created the Certosa di Pavia. Colleoni lies beneath a ceiling frescoed by Tiepolo and surrounded by statuary. Cappella Colleoni is open March to October daily from 9:30am to 12:30pm and 2 to 6pm; and November through February Tuesday through Sunday 9am to 12:30pm and 2 to 4:30pm.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.