Despite being certain that I’d be hungry when I arrived into Bergamo by double-decker train, I wasn’t.
This may have been a result of a late running training and knowing that I now had four minutes to check in at my B&B (which was actually bed without breakfast other than coffee facilities).
As I dashed out of the station, a wall of sound hit me – helicopters above and police sirens all around. I have no idea what was going on and at the time, I was just in a hurry to find my accommodation.
In Turin, I stayed in a converted fire station which was superb. In Bergamo, the B&B is in a 1960s apartment building. It isn’t one of the traditional constructions with the apartments sharing a central courtyard but it is a small shopping arcade filled with pasticceri (cake shops). I really am going to have to sample some of those at some point.
This morning, after breakfast in a cafe not far from the B&B I headed up to Bergamo Alta – the Old Town up on the hill. I could have travelled by the funicular but it is such a short wander, I thought I’d give that a miss. (No, I haven’t got a temperature. Yes, I’m feeling quite well thank you).
It wasn’t far but it was quite steep. However, in heading up to Porta di San Giacomo, it was probably the most impressive point at which to enter the old town.
The San Giacomo Gate is one of four that gave entry to the old city of Bergamo. Each of the gates were named for the churches that oroginally stood in their place. Only one of the four churches remains and it isn’t this one.
The gate with its winged lion (the symbol of Venice) was completed in 1593 and it was another 200 years before the stone bridge was completed. I’m assuming there was a wooden bridge at least otherwise, that’s a bit of a steep climb.
And at least one of the city clocks is fast. It started striking ten. Sporadically. Five chimes… pause… one chime…pause…two chimes… it’ll get there… and another… thinking about it… there we go. All ten. It was 09:54. Oh, and another one for luck. Or maybe it was morse code? It then set the others off ringing the hour.
Bergamo had become part of the Republic of Venice, the furthest city inland and uncomfortably close to Milan (which had previously laid claim to the city on the hill). Shortly after their victory, Venice commenced construction of the fortified walls beginning in 1561 (and using existing Roman ramparts as a foundation). It was either an exercise in realism or the ultimate expression of pessimism. (I may have found my people).
The UNESCO heritage fortifications are remarkably intact because Bergamo was never beseiged. Venice would fall but this would not impact on Bergamo.
The main changes to the walls appear to have been people building whopping great villas (and thereby cutting off access) or narrow houses into and on top of the walls (I passed a 2m wide house and a garden of the same width filled with lemon trees and flowers in containers #Goals).
Porta di San Giacomo, as mentioned, is the most impressive of the four gates. Porta di Sant’Alessandro, the next gate on my wander (the gate for travellers on the road from Como and the most heavily fortified as it protected the city’ water supply) is visible, just, on the photo of the irises.
Porta San Lorenzo was the quietest gate today with the most gentle slope to enter…
…while between it and San Agostino there were people maintaining the walls.
At Porta di San Agostino (where the one remaining church of the gates is currently under scaffolding) the sign claimed the gate was clearly visible…
Presumably that sign hasn’t been updated since the trees reached full height. Porta di San Agostina was the most important gate to the city and was reinforced by a cannon, no longer on the rampart that I was standing on, overlooking the road to enter.
I’m not really surprised that nobody ever attempted a siege of Bergamo.
After a brief wander around the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore…
…because it closes for lunch at 12.30, I decided to take that as divine intervention and wandered off to the funicular station where there is a cafe overlooking the rails coming up from the lower city.
The view was stunning and the bagel was quite impressive too. The sparrows, eyeballing my plate clearly thought so too and scouting parties regularly landed on the railings to monitor my progress and leftovers.
I spent most of the afternoon wandering the Alta. There are a lot of museums to see up there but if it’s good weather I am generally reluctant to head inside. The Old Town is only a small area – the walls stretch just over 3.5 miles but the narrow streets twist and turn making it possible to spend a hours up there.
Add in the fact that you can walk along the road to to the Castello di San Vigilio which is on a hill higher than the Old Town providing some stunning views and, well, you might never come back down to the Lower Town.
There had been a fort since the 6th century and until the 15th century when Bergamo became a part of the Venetian Republic, it had benefited from the Duchy of Milan fortifying it. The castle was beseiged several times over the centuries.
The Venetians, in building the walls of the Alta did not extend them to the fort but did construct a tunnel to link the fortifications. Considering Milan would have known the weaknesses of their former castle, I am surprised that they did not attack at least this part of Bergamo while it was in the hands of the Republic.
Mind you, what do I know about military tactics?