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Bergamo The Pearl of Lombardy

With a millennial tradition, Bergamo rises majestically atop a hill in Lombardy. Its medieval old town is one of the best preserved in the region, with vestiges of the passage of Venetians, Austrians, Napoleon and, lastly, the unifiers under Garibaldi. But, apart from its monumental heritage, Bergamo is also famous for its cuisine and for being the birthplace of one of the leading opera composers of all time – Gaetano Donizetti.

Between the Città Alta and the Città Bassa

The Bergamasque universe is split in two. The historic centre is surrounded by an old wall at the top of a steep hill in what is known as the Città Alta or Upper City. At the foot of these hills lies the Città Bassa or Lower City which spreads across the plains and is now the hub of the city’s development.

Until the 19th century, the only connection between the two parts of Bergamo was via the sloping fortified wall gates. Over a hundred years ago, however, they were joined by a funicular railway which now links the Upper and Lower City in less than five minutes. The ride affords some stunning views.

The Essential Bergamo

The two main thoroughfares in old Bergamo are Via Gombito and Via Bartolomeo Colleoni. The network of streets that fan out from there is well worth strolling through as they are structured around the Piazza Vecchia, of which the architect Le Corbusier said it was the most beautiful square in Italy. It is also the site of some of the city’s most significant buildings. Presiding over the area is the formidable Torre Civica, also known as the Campanone, a stunning campanile from where the bells once pealed out to mark curfews and which connects the Palazzo della Ragione to the Palazzo del Podestà.

At the other end of the square stands the white Palazzo Nuovo, designed by the architect Vincenzo Scamozzi. It now houses a library, while a second-hand book and antique market sets up shop under its arcade on Sunday mornings.

The arches attached to the municipal building on the far side of the square lead to the Piazza Duomo. Sited here and well worth visiting is the Cathedral, although absolute pride of place goes to the adjoining Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore, one of the most beautiful churches in the north of Italy. Begun in the 12th century, its Romanesque exterior belies its opulent interior, studded with frescoes, coloured stucco and marquetry work of the finest quality. A prominent highlight is the Colleoni Chapel. Here, too, lie the mortal remains of the most illustrious Bergamasque, Gaetano Donizetti, as well as those of his master, the no less distinguished Simon Mayr.

A Universal Bergamasque

No account of Bergamo would be complete without mention of the composer, Gaetano Donizetti, who was born and died here. Indeed, every step one takes through the city is a constant reminder of the romantic musician. Whether you are a music lover or not, we wholeheartedly recommend visiting the Museo Donizettiano, located near the Basilica de Santa Maria, with its collection of the composer’s personal belongings and several of his handwritten musical scores. The city’s leading theatre, the Donizetti Theatre, is yet another reminder of Bergamo’s favourite son. Adjacent to the theatre, a large monument pays tribute to his figure, while in autumn the city hosts the Festival Donizetti, which includes performances of his operas and includes guest opera stars from abroad. The festival is also a good time to discover the Teatro Sociale which, after its latest refurbishment in 2009, is unlikely to leave you indifferent.

Essential Cuisine

By now nobody would be surprised to hear about the excellence of Italian cuisine, and Bergamasque cooking is no exception. The star dish in the city is their casonsei or casoncelli alla bergamasca, a meat-filled pasta with a superb sage butter sauce. Their cured meat is another forte of the region, as are the wines. There are two venues you should make a point of visiting if you want to taste their finest cuisine. First, Da Mimmo, on the Via Colleoni in the Città Alta. Here you can taste some of the local specialities and one of the city’s most famous pizzas. The other essential eatery is the Baretto de San Vigilio. You can only get there by taking a second funicular from the Città Alta. The restaurant serves delicious traditional cuisine with signature flourishes and affords what are some of the best views of Bergamo. You simply must try their homemade tiramisu, one of the tastiest in the north of Italy.

Fire up and visit this fantastic Lombard city – book your Vueling to Milan here.

Text by Aleix Palau for Los Viajes de ISABELYLUIS

Images by Aleix Palau, Rick Ligthelm, David Spender

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