The Italian Job: Day 6 – History Geeking and Sunshine

A drizzly day today so I headed for the Accademia Carrara and handed over €10 to cover the cost of my visit. “Aren’t you entitled to any discounts?” asked the man at the ticket counter.

I don’t pass for anyone under 26 and I certainly hope I couldn’t pass for an OAP discount.

The art gallery was founded in Bergamo in 1796 on the initiative of Count Giacomo Carrara. Over the years the collection grew thanks to the efforts of  Count Guglielmo Lochis (1866), Senator Giovanni Morelli (1891) and over two hundred other donations.

Even the ticket is arty.

The paintings “take you through the history of Italian art, from the beginning of the fifteenth century to the threshold of modernity”. As well as paintings of saints being tortured and dying in gruesome ways (it was a bit soon after breakfast for this sort of thing), cautionary tales on being a woman (if China was all about daughters and their self-sacrifice, it seems we’re going with honour killings to spare dads a bit of embarrassment) there’s also a fair bit of history.

Throughout the Renaissance period, Italian ideas and styles of painting (along with the artists themselves) travelled across Europe – usually along trade routes but also as a result of war. It wasn’t only sponsorship and patronage encouraging notable artists to up sticks and move across Northern Italy.

It is thought that a French soldier nicked a bit of this painting rather than take the whole thing. Perhaps he didn’t have room in his luggage. Or maybe, he just liked that part. It’s thought that the segment was originially a view of landscape seen through a window. You can see the window frame.

Why not take the whole picture?

And for a focus on Bergamo…

In the later turbulent years leading up to the birth of Italy as a nation, General Giuseppe Garibaldi (considered one of the “fathers of the fatherland”) conquered Bergamo in 1859, during the Second Italian War of Independence. As a result, the city was incorporated into the newly founded Kingdom of Italy. (And yes, the biscuit was named after him).

For its contribution to the Italian unification movement, Bergamo is also known as Città dei Mille (“City of the Thousand”), because a significant part of the rank-and-file supporting Giuseppe Garibaldi in his expedition against the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies came from Bergamo and its environs.

While posing for his portrait, this soldier was spotted by two Sicilian snipers. History does not record how this encounter ended.

The thousand? From all of the plaques I’ve read around the city and in this museum and online… it was apparently actually 180 volunteers.

The museum also supports community groups and particularly arts in health action. Today there was a seated dance group taking place in one of the larger rooms. Dancing has been shown to support falls prevention in older people and it’s a form of exercise that can support improvents in balance, strength, flexibility and mobility for all age groups. There were about 30 people of all ages taking part in today’s session – some remaining seated while some more mobile and able to stand.

Dance Well started as a therapeutic activity for people with Parkinson’s Disease and was opened up to everyone. It is sponsored by a number of arts collaboratives and the local council. The Accademia Carrara was the first museum in Lombardy to offer and promote this kind of experience, providing a venue that also provides visual stimulus to the dancers who perform in a room filled with paintings.

By the time I left the museum it had stopped raining. I headed back up the hill to the Alta before the crowd got any ideas. Yes, back up to the Alta for a second day – this really is a lovely place to spend a sunny afternoon.

I say ‘crowds’ but it really isn’t as busy as pre-Pandemic levels. Yes, it’s midweek but it still feels very quiet though in the narrow streets of the Alta, it doesn’t take large numbers for it to feel busy. Or maybe, I’m just not yet used to large numbers of people.

Mask wearing remains high – it’s required in the museums and in busy streets, the majority of people wear them.

This time I entered the Alta through the Porta di Sant Agostino and THIS is what a clear view of the gate looks like.

Porta di Sant Agostino

Today and yesterday have been a bit of a “Touring with Jim Bowen” experience (i.e. if the building had been open, here’s what you could have seen). Other than the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore, everything is shut or undergoing repairs. The Botanic Gardens open on a Saturday afternoon and all day Sunday (with a two hour break for lunch).

The Battistero, the Cappella Colleoni (both featuring the pink and white marble) and the cattedrale di Sant’Alessandro all have “marvellous interiors”. You and I will be making do with the exteriors.

The quieter streets also allowed me to peer in at the shop windows to ogle the food on sale in the specialist shops. Or maybe… specialist in the UK and just everyday life here – every time I’ve been to Italy, I’ve noticed that in the majority of shops, the merchandise is put on display like an artwork rather than being dumped somewhere until it is all sold.

Last night, while wandering past the bus station, I spotted panels of advertisements completed by street artists tempting passengers to leave their vehicles and come to see what Bergamo has to offer.

From one of them, Pub Quiz afficionados… I learned that the city is the birthplace of stracciatella icecream, invented in 1961, made by pouring melted chocolate into vanilla icecream and breaking it up. Yes, it is Viennetta – the forerunner of Viennetta. And yes, I will want a share of your winnings.

Mission Accomplished

Come for the museums and food, stay for the trivia.

Bergamo is a city you probably could see in a day, if you’re on a strict timetable and everything is shut. The Accademia is closed on a Tuesday so I was pleased that I had planned for two whole days here. There is also currently a lot of restoration taking place with fountains and paths closed off – probably to get the town ready for Summer season visitors.

I spent most of my time, while it was sunny, up in the Alta so by the time I was making my way down to the Bassa (lower city), the attractions and museums here were closing. However, the streets are relaxing to wander and this evening I ended up on the far side of the railway station taling pictures of murals, before wandering off in search of aperitivo.

As for the aperitivo I could definitely get used to this. Chin, chin.

Categories: Bergamo, Italy, Public Health, Street Art, The Italian Job, TravelTags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
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