|Art and Culture in Bergamo|
|Romanesque churches, Renaissance mansions, baroquebuildings, neo-classical villas and Art Nouveau. The extraordinary wealth of the province of Bergamo makes it impossible to concentrate an itinerary exploring works of art in a small area. A better idea is to start from the heart of Bergamo Alta and indicate just a few essentials and leave the pleasure of discovering other ‘ideal tours’ to personal taste and passions.|
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The old heart of Bergamo
Where Piazza Vecchia, the most representative space in Bergamo Alta, stands today there used to be medieval houses and shops, of which a reminder that can be seen at the base of the high tower of Palazzo del Comune. Adorned with an 18th-century fountain, the square is indeed a Renaissance space and was created in the 15th century by demolishing the buildings close to Palazzo della Ragione - erected in the middle of the 12th century but rebuilt in the 15th and 16th centuries.
Also marking the square are Palazzo Nuovo, designed in 1593 and redesigned in 1611, and Palazzo del Podestà, originally dating from 1340 but transformed in the 15th century.
The loggia of Palazzo della Ragione leads into the intact and secluded Piazza del Duomo, one of the loveliest squares in Lombardy. On this square stand the Duomo, dating from the 16th century, restructured in 1459 by Filarete but revamped in 1688 and not completed until 1886; the remarkable Basilica of S. Maria Maggiore, preceded by a Romanesque porch; and the elegant Colleoni chapel, one of the finest examples of Lombard Renaissance art, built by Bartolomeo Colleoni as his personal mausoleum.
The small octagonal Baptistery has only stood in front of the gardens of the Arcivescovado since 1898. When it was constructed - in 1340 - it was inside S. Maria Maggiore and there it remained until 1660, when it was entirely dismantled.
The other towns on the plain
The walls that used to surround Treviglio no longer exist. Because of its position - midway between Bergamo and Milan and at the junction of roads to Crema and Brescia - it acquired the traditional role of a trade centre. In the central square, the collegiate of S. Martino tells an old story, that commenced with its foundation in the 10th-11th century, continued in the 15th century with a first remake and then again in the 18th century, when it was given its animated baroque façade. Worthy of note inside is a polyptych by Bernardino Butinone and Bernardino Zenale (1485), conserved at the end of the right hand aisle.
Romano di Lombardia also owes it function as a trade pole and the town’s traditional vocation to the fact that it stands at a point where major roads meet. Besides the Visconti castle, an indication of its long history is seen in the medieval Palazzo della Comunità, altered by the Venetians in the 15th century; also in the centre of the town is the picturesque parish church of S. Maria Assunta, which contains paintings by G.B. Moroni.
The tall bell-tower of the church of S. Maria dell’Incoronata, erected in the second half of the 15th century and adorned with 15th-16th century frescoes, heralds from afar Martinengo, with its remarkable Piazza Maggiore featuring porticoed buildings and the 17thcentury Palazzo del Comune
The porticoed houses of Alzano Lombardo used to belong to the rich silk and wool merchants who brought prosperity to this centre at the entrance to Val Seriana in the 15th-16th centuries.
Its imposing Basilica of S. Martino was commenced in 1659 although it was not completed until the early 19th century. Inside it contains important paintings (G.B. Piazzetta, Palma the Elder, Jacopo Tintoretto) and a monumental marble pulpit by Andrea Fantoni (1712), also responsible for the wood inlays in one of the three magnificent sacristies.
Climbing up the Serio valley, though a still intensely urbanised landscape, you will come to Albino. Standing on its central square is the church of S. Bartolomeo, of 13thcentury origin but remade in the 15th and 17th centuries, and the 19th-century parish church of S. Giuliano, which contains two paintings by G.B. Moroni, born in or around 1523 in a local hamlet. Next comes Gandino, where the impressive Basilica of S. Maria Assunta, with its rich baroque interior, is a 17th-century reconstruction of an existing church.
The best known and most precious work is, however, to be found at Clusone, which because of its position at the crossroads between Lake Iseo and Valcamònica, was a major trading village in Roman times. This is a cycle of frescoes beneath the porticoes of the 15th-century oratory of the Disciplini, painted in 1485 by Giacomo Borlone and his workshop.
Val Cavallina and Lake Iseo
Painting enthusiasts will discover fine works in centres in the open and flat Val Cavallina, formed by the River Cherio. As well as the frescoes by Lorenzo Lotto at Trescore Balneario, an essential stop is the Galleria dell’Accademia Tadini at Lóvere, which boasts major paintings of the 14th-19th-century Venetian and Lombard schools. While there also visit the Basilica of S. Maria in Valvendra, erected in the second half of the 15th century perhaps by Comacine masters. Of note on the main altar is a 16th-century Annunciation by Pietro Morone, enclosed in a monumental wooden ancona.
The tour then continues in Val Calepio, lying between the Cherio and Oglio rivers. Rolling hills will lead you to Credaro to visit a cycle of frescoes by Lorenzo Lotto in the small church of S. Giorgio. Frescoes by Romanino can be admired in the commune of Villongo; paintings for the 16thcentury chapel of S. Rocco are now on display in the adjacent Casa Bonduri. The tour ends at Sàrnico, on Lake Iseo. Here there are no precious paintings, but Villa Faccanoni, designed in 1912 by Giuseppe Sommaruga, is a refined example of Art Nouveau architecture.
Sanctuaries, monasteries and abbeys
The environs of Bergamo
Lying on the bottom of a silent valley not far outside Bergamo, the monastery of Astino is reached along a steep and narrow road that descends the eastern slope of the San Vigilio hill. Founded in the early 12th century by the monks of Vallombrosa to house a holy relic brought from Jerusalem by the first crusaders, the monastery (today abandoned) was extensively restructured in 1515 to develop a larger and more sumptuous complex. The works continued for more than a century and added a deep Renaissance choir and a porticoed cloister, linked by an elegant loggia, to the church. The contrast between the agricultural landscape of the small valley and the city suburbs is great, as too is that between the old monastery and the church of Maria Santissima Immacolata, built in 1962-65 at Lònguelo, a hamlet of Bergamo.
The abbey of Pontida
The oath of Pontida represents one of the most celebrated pages in schoolbooks. Yet history does not confirm the tradition, according to which it was in this old abbey, on 7 April 1167, that the representatives of the Lombard League made a pact to prevent the Emperor Federico I Barbarossa from jeopardising the freedom of the Communes.
What is certain, on the other hand, is that the monastery of S. Giacomo Maggiore, founded in the second half of the 11th century and better known as the abbey of Pontida, was, in the Middle Ages, the economic and cultural centre of a vast area in the Adda valley. Destroyed by the Visconti family in 1373, it was rebuilt in several stages from 1485 on. Of the 16th-century structure it conserves two virtually intact cloisters (in the portico of the upper one, frescoes of popes of the Benedictine order and figures who renounced high honour for the monk’s habit), the chapterhouse (early 16th-century frescoes) and three rooms that today house the abbey museum. A modern flight of steps climbs to the basilica, its façade and bell-tower were rebuilt in the early 19th century. The interior of the monastery conserves, at least in its central body, the pointed forms of 14thcentury architecture and two sculpted stone panels in Burgundian art (late 11th-early 12th C.) inserted in the modern main altar, date from the first church.
The home of the ‘good pope’
A few kilometres separate Pontida from Sotto il Monte Giovanni XXIII, a rural centre famous because it was the birthplace of John XXIII - Angelo Roncalli in the world - Pope from 1958 to 1963. His home is a destination for pilgrims and many believers also visit the commemorative museum set up in the Ca’ Maitino that was the prelate’s summer residence during his period as cardinal. In the hamlet of Fontanella stands the church of S. Egidio, with a simple Romanesque façade and 16thcentury frescoes inside. It is all that remains of the abbey of Fontanella, founded in the 11th century by Cluniac monks.
The sanctuaries of Caravaggio and Treviglio
Apparently, in far off 1571, this was the birthplace of Michelangelo Merisi, the restless and talented maestro known as Cara-vaggio who emphasised the dramatic intensity of his paintings with light and shade. However, this old village southeast of Treviglio is mainly known for the sanctuary of the Madonna di Caravaggio, built in or around the 16th century on the spot where the Virgin Mary is said to have appeared to a humble peasant woman. Visited by pilgrims, the grand complex now presents the appearance of the reconstruction ordered by Carlo Borromeo which, although commenced in 1575, was not completed until the early 18th century. Popular devotion also tells of a miracle of the past in nearby Treviglio. In 1522, the tears wept by an image of the Madonna are said to have saved the centre of the Bergamo plain from being sacked by French soldiers. On the spot where the miracle occurred building commenced in 1594 of the sanctuary of the Beata Vergine delle Lacrime, extended and transformed in the early 20th century.
A sanctuary in the Bergamo valleys
Although it derives from a common church of the 11th century, the layout of the sanctuary of the Madonna del Castello at Almenno San Salvatore dates from the 16th century. This old centre is situated on a rise to the right of the River Brembo, at the point where the Imagna valley enters in Val Brembana.
On the outside the church features a marble portal, built in 1578; the unusual interior is divided in two by a frescoed wall. The front part has a ciborium of the 16th century and the inner portion, older and decorated with frescoes of the 11th-16th centuries, houses a Romanesque ambo in sculpted stone.
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