In Bergamo, when it drizzles…

with 22 Comments

According to the weather app, it’s sunny here in Bergamo, I said. Outside, the rain was pouring down on a bunch of black umbrellas moving forward on the Via Bartolomeo Colleoni.

 

Kerstin opened the window and gazed out as if she was trying to spot a piece of blue sky. Any hope? I asked. She calmly closed the window and tried to convince me that it doesn’t matter how the weather is. Bergamo can also be explored in the rain.

 

Located in the alpine Lombardy region of Northern Italy, Bergamo is about 50 km away from the famous city of Milan. Most people visit it during a day trip. But when I googled Bergamo, I immediately understood that it’s quite a hidden gem for architecture lovers. So I decided to spend our whole long weekend in this lesser-known Italian town, especially in the medieval hilltop district known as the Città Alta (Upper Town), where we could slowly explore every corner in depth.

 

 

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From our bed & breakfast, we strolled down the main street to the Piazza Vecchia. What drew our attention were not the buildings around this square, but the ones hidden behind the Piazza Vecchia.

 

Holding tight to our umbrella, we moved on to discover the sumptuous façade of the Colleoni Chapel. It rained harder and harder and the sky was turning grey and dark. But the lavishly decorated façade covered in white, grey and light pink marble lozenges still looked stunningly bright.

 

I was amazed by the huge central rose window embedded in a profusely decorated concave area, just above the portal. On both sides of the rose window were two medaillons protraying Julius Caesar and Trajan.

 

 

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There were so many details on the Colleoni Chapel that I didn’t know where to look. I turned over to Kerstin and saw her examining the high reliefs sculpted on the lower part of the façade. Look, it’s Hercules who’s pictured here! Yes, I said, and also some biblical stories.

 

Built from 1472 to 1476, the Colleoni Chapel is in fact a mausoleum. It contains the tomb of the condottiere Bartolomeo Colleoni, a member of one of the most outstanding families in Bergamo back in the 15th century. Apparently, this famous mercenary captain was a man of great power and a fearless soldier, who spent his whole life fighting all over Italy. Born in Bergamo, he also owned several castles in the plain around the city. During the peak of his power, he decided to have a mausoleum built in the most strategic spot of his hometown, so that once he was gone, he could rest among his ancestors for ever.

 

 

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Next to this masterwork of Renaissance architecture stands the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore. The façade of this church might not be as interesting as the Colleoni Chapel’s. But once we got inside the basilica, we both stood jaw-dropped in an extravagant Baroque interior. Walls and ceilings were all covered in paintings, tapestries or richly gilded architectural decorations from the bottom to the top. 

 

Every now and then we heard different bell chimes outside the church. The loudest and longest chimes came from the Civic Tower. Also known as the Campanone or Big Bell, it stands right across the Colleoni Chapel and the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore. When we left the church, the sky finally cleared up a bit. A few cerulean spots even peeked out from behind the rain clouds. We stopped in front of the 53 meter high Civic Tower, and were told that we could actually go up to the top of it.

 

 

Do you think it’s worth to climb up all those stairs ? I let Kerstin’s question mature in my head for a while, while listening to the bell’s tolls. Let’s visit the History Museum first.

 

It turns out that the entrance fee to the Big Bell is included in the ticket to the Palace of the Podestà, one of Bergamo’s History Museum. We started our visit with the archaeological Roman site on the ground floor. We then moved up to the upper floor to admire the frescoes in an inner court dating back to the Renaissance period. The other rooms of the museum are filled with interactive exhibits, which made us travel back in time to Bergamo’s rich past. 

 

When we reached the top of the Bell Tower (with an elevator!), the grey clouds were moving in again. Luckily, we still had time to enjoy the panoramic views of the whole city before it started to rain again.

 

 

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From the Civic Tower, we also recognized the grounds of the Convento di San Francesco, located not far away from the heart of Bergamo’s Città Alta.

 

Finding this convent however was not easy. We strolled through narrow cobblestone alleys, walked through the Via S. Pancrazio several times, but still couldn’t locate the convent’s entrance. On the following day, we took the same direction and walked even more slowly. We stopped every now and then to examine the details that ornate the Bergamese buildings. And then suddenly, we found the entrance to the Convento di San Francesco. It was in fact closed the day before. Compared to the rest of the Città Alta, the convent’s entrance looks so mundane that when the doors are shut, you simply walk by without even noticing it. 

 

But once we entered the Convento di San Francesco, now home to the archives, library and offices of Bergamo’s History Museum, we were dazzled by the colorful frescoes in the first courtyard. No other visitor was there that day, but we still walked slowly and whispered as if any extra noise might destroy the frescoes. The lower parts of most frescoes are in fact already destroyed.

 

 

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When do you think they were destroyed? Centuries or only decades ago? Through natural causes or deliberately? Some of the frescoes are missing huge parts of their story. Standing there, I tried to fill out the gaps to picture the whole story that was once depicted on these walls. Somehow, I was hoping that these exquisite frescoes will soon be restored and better preserved, before Bergamo gets too touristy. Behind us in the couryard, it started to drizzle again…

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In Bergamo when it drizzles © Travelwithmk.com

 

In Bergamo when it drizzles © Travelwithmk.com

 

Follow Mei:

Traveler - Storyteller

30-something Archaeologist, born and raised in Luxembourg. Besides traveling, Mei loves eating stinky cheese and raw food, as well as listening to Kerstin's stories while driving on long road trips. She speaks 7 languages, and wishes she had time to pick up Ancient Greek. She's afraid of heights, but adores panoramic views. Her favorite places are those she chose to live in: Paris, Greece, San Francisco.

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22 Responses

  1. Carmen Edelson
    | Reply

    WOW, the churches in Bergamo are just blowing me away. Colleoni Chapel would be the first place I visit. Not a bad place to spend a rainy day… so much to look at! You captured Bergamo and its offerings beautifully.

    • Mei and Kerstin
      | Reply

      Thanks Carmen! We hope you also get to visit Bergamo soon. 😉

  2. Mel Butler
    | Reply

    I just love Bergamo and your post took me right back there that I want to pack my bags right now and jump on a plane and head there. I agree with your partner you can definitely explore Bergamo in the rain. You can hide away in one of the many little cafes and restaurants up there. libraries are my favourite places in a building, I don’t remember going to Convento di San Francesco so it is on the list for next time

    • Mei and Kerstin
      | Reply

      It looks like they reopened the convent quite recently, so perhaps it was closed to the public when you were there… But now that’s a good reason to visit Bergamo again, right?! 😉

  3. Michael Hodgson
    | Reply

    Bergamo sounds fantastic and until you post, I had not really had it on my travel radar. The frescoes look super. What I most liked about your post though is that you made the best of things despite the rain. Weather happens. It is how you handle it that determines whether your day will be under the weather or full of sunshine (albeit virtual). 😉

    • Mei and Kerstin
      | Reply

      Ah, we’re glad to have made you curious about visiting Bergamo! Hehe.. It’s important to always stay positive and not let the weather affect you (too much)!

  4. Lauren Pears
    | Reply

    Bergamo looks beautiful – even in the rain! Loving the architecture and it seems like you had a lovely time. I find the rain usually dulls my spirits when travelling so it’s great to see that you didn’t let it bother you.

    • Mei and Kerstin
      | Reply

      To be honest, the rain often bothers us, but not this time in Bergamo. 🙂

  5. TheGreatAmbini
    | Reply

    I went to Milan and we heard a lot about Bergamo while we were there, especially as a lot of budget flights land in Milan Bergamo airport (which is kilometres away from Milano) I am now gutted that we didn’t get to visit this beautiful town for ourselves! I am very used to the rain, coming from Wales but you never expect it from Italy!

    • Mei and Kerstin
      | Reply

      We didn’t expect rain in Italy neither! Especially that it was sunny here in Luxembourg all the time we were there… Well, next time you return to Milano, make sure to spend a night in Bergamo then. 😉

  6. Kavita Favelle
    | Reply

    Oh, how beautiful! I am so glad you mentioned that it’s worthwhile staying overnight here, rather than a day trip. I generally prefer to have at least one night in any city, even if it’s one people don’t usually spend so long in. You get a better feel for it that way plus I love to have dinner in a local restaurant, not just lunch! The architecture does look glorious and one good thing about the rain is no harsh light, and softer shadows, so that really helps with your lovely photos of the buildings!!

    • Mei and Kerstin
      | Reply

      You’re absolutely right: staying overnight at a place lets you explore the town quite differently. And Bergamo at nighttime has a magical atmosphere. If you ever spend a night there, make sure to have dinner at Da Mimmo!

  7. Lara Dunning
    | Reply

    I’m all about visiting lesser known destinations. What a beautiful city and admiring the architecture is something I would enjoy as well. The frescoes are beautiful! That would be wonderful if they restored them.

    • Mei and Kerstin
      | Reply

      If you get a chance, Lara, do spend a few days in Bergamo! You’ll certainly love it! 😉

  8. Even in the rain the colours of the building are warm and portray their deep history. It is hard to fathom that kind of history when you come from Canada and Australia. Buildings are so young over here! You did a great job capturing them even in bad weather.

    Thanks for sharing. Keep travel blogging. Adventure is better shared with friends!

    • Mei and Kerstin
      | Reply

      Thanks Anthony! Oh well there are also ancient historical remains in Canada and Australia, but not medieval or Renaissance architecture for sure.

  9. Carolina Colborn
    | Reply

    You are right that Bergamo is not well-known but is so spectacular, especially the Colleoni Chapel! That facade is unbelievable!

  10. Anja
    | Reply

    Even though I’m not a fan of rain when traveling, I have to admit that it has it charms…sometimes. We wandered around Chioggia on a rainy day, and now I have quite nice memories of wandering by its canals in the misty, rainy weather. Like most people, we visited Bergamo as a day trip as well, and I was so impressed with the Capella Colleoni that I bought a book about it then (no idea where I’ve put it though, reading your article just reminded me of it!). How beautiful is the marble adorning the facade!

    • Mei and Kerstin
      | Reply

      Yep, the Capella Colleoni is truly a gem! If you find the book you bought, let us know which one it is. 🙂

  11. Ryan Biddulph
    | Reply

    Still looks beautiful guys. Quite awesome pictures too. Same deal here in Connecticut; forecast called for sun and clouds but a light drizzle this morning. Oh well. Rocking post.

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