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The city of Bergamo

Date of Submission: 01/06/2006
Criteria: (iv)
Category: Cultural
Submitted by:
Ministry of Cultural Heritage and Activities
State, Province or Region:

Region: Lombardia - Province: Bergamo


Ref.: 331
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Property names are listed in the language in which they have been submitted by the State Party

Description

That the city of Bergamo is composed of two parts can be easily appreciated. There is the Città Alta (Upper Town), built up on the hills, which is the "city" by definition, and the Città Bassa (Lower Town), which is a lively financial, industrial and administrative centre of national importance. The two parts are separated, both physically and symbolically, by the powerful Venetian Walls, which were built by the Serenissima Republic of Venice in the second half of the 16th century to defend the city, which was the farthermost centre on the Mainland, close to the border with Milan's territory.

Bergamo (from berg-heim, i.e. the hill-town) was probably founded by Celtic populations, which settled on the hills looking onto the plan at the outlet of the pre-Alpine valleys of the Brembo and Serio rivers, two tributaries of the Adda river.

The first historical evidence dates back to the year 223 b.C., when it is certain that Roman military forces were present in this area. In 49 b.C., Julius Caesar granted the status of Municipium to the town, which started its slow Romanisation process. Bergomum, which is the Latin name of Bergamo, was provided with major public buildings, which are currently no longer visible even though some remains often surface up on the occasion of excavations and diggings. Walls were also built up, parts of which are still extant; they were re-used for the new, larger Medieval fortifications with some enlargements and restorations. Indeed, the fortifications had remained relatively intact after the fall of Rome, so much so that Bergamo had been referred to as "operibus munitae" [surrounded by walls] by the historians reporting on the Gothic war in the mid-6th century. The Roman town plan can also be appreciated, at least in part, in the Città Alta - as shown by the Gombito and Colleoni streets, which follow the route of the ancient decumanus. The Gombito Tower, built in the 12th century at the main crossroads in the town, was named exactly after its location - compitum being the Latin word for bifurcation or crossroads.

The Roman urban settlement was not limited to the area on the hills surrounded by the walls; several Authors actually mention the suburbia that had developed along the streets leading to the Città Alta, which have basically remained unchanged up to this very day.

This hierarchical structure of the urban area, including a walled civitas [city] and the suburbia on the plan underneath, remained basically unchanged in time and was actually "officialised" by the Lombards, who subdivided the urban territory into two royal boroughs. The key role played by the Città Alta was thereby strengthened, being the seat of the Bishopric, and the vici located on the streets leading out of the civitas could also develop.

With the creation of an autonomous Commune and the extension of the jus burgense, the legal status of town was also applied to the vici, which were turned into "burgi"; all economic and manufacturing activities were ultimately moved to the burgi, whilst the Città Alta town further confirmed its role as a political and religious centre after the Communal Palace and the great urban church of S. Maria Maggiore - the most prestigious monument in the city - were built. The basilica was built starting in 1157 on the site of an older, smaller church bearing the same name; its architectural frame is quite complex and articulated, rich in major sculptures such as, in particular, two beautiful porches by Giovanni da Campione (1350). Inside, it was sumptuously renovated during the Baroque age and contains several outstanding works such as the cycle of wonderful wood carvings by Lorenzo Lotto. On the other hand, the fortified mansions, almost always flaunting towers, bear testimony to the extraordinary economic growth of the Communal age; they were built at strategic, especially prestigious locations in the Città Alta and are responsible for the typical structure of the town which still marks it as a Medieval town.

A milestone in the history of Bergamo was its incorporation into the Venetian State in 1428, which lasted for over three centuries and a half. The interventions brought about in this period produced a major impact on the town's plan. Re-building of the Communal Palace (currently named Palazzo della Ragione) was started in order to reverse its orientation towards the Piazza Vecchia, which was created by pulling down an old quarter. A new Cathedral started being built, on a design put forward by Filarete. Among the new works, reference should be made to the Colleoni Chapel, which was built by G.A. Amadeo as a burial monument for the well-known Venetian mercenary; the Renaissance structure and design of the centrally-oriented chapel are almost wholly effaced by the gorgeous sculptures and multi-coloured decorations. The solutions devised for the Chapel provide a significant example of the merger of styles resulting from application of the classical principles followed by Tuscan architects to the decorative tradition of typically Lombard nature.

The most important, daunting and expensive work of this period was undoubtedly the building of the Venetian Walls with their ramparts (1560-1623), which still mark the urban skyline with their imposing, intact structure. When the first walls, called "muraìne", had been  built by including both the Città Alta and most of the settlements on the plan, the unity of the urban area had been re-affirmed; conversely, the new imposing fortifications turned the bi-polar development of the city into a permanent feature. Indeed, the new walls brought about a veritable break-up in the urban settlement; partly because of the major demolitions that were performed to build up the huge walls, the Città Alta was ultimately severed from the surrounding suburban areas and became increasingly a sort of showcase for the powerful - as shown by the rapidity with which the landed gentry built up their palaces therein. The Città Bassa further pursued its manufacturing vocation; in particular, the area where the Fair used to be held came to play an even more central role, as marked by the creation of the "Sentierone", i.e. a new, large, tree-lined street that connected the western and eastern suburbia crossing the area of the Fair, thereby giving rise to a new kind of urban geometry.

This trend towards bi-polarism was enhanced in the 18th century, when the Città Bassa experienced a major growth and renovation process; long ranges of narrow-front houses were built to accommodate workers and artisans - which conferred the ultimate features on S. Leonardo's quarter - and the "stone Fair" was built, meaning the large permanent structure the merchants decided to build in order to replace the shanties that were set up annually on the occasion of the Fair.

The area where the Fair was held became the de-facto city centre, and after World War I, despite the decline caused by the deep-ranging economic changes that had started in the 19th century, it was totally re-styled by Marcello Piacentini; he built the "Modern Centre", a unified example of all-round project-designing, including interesting examples of contemporary architecture.

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity

Bergamo fulfils the authenticity condition on account of the presence of structures and buildings that have been preserved excellently within an urban context that has remained intact over the centuries. Ever since 1934, the city has been the subject of an Amelioration Plan, which was markedly advanced as for its conceptual features; this plan envisaged, inter alia, the full conservation of the central streets and all the relevant buildings as well as the regulation of traffic in the peripheral areas.

The Municipality of Bergamo has taken ad-hoc town-planning measures to safeguard the Città Alta and the Suburbia as well as the surrounding environment, which includes the parkland area of the hills (Detailed Plan for Città Alta and Hills; Landscape Plan of the Regional Park).

The whole area and the individual monuments are also legally protected by national legislation (Legislative decree no. 42/2004 containing the "Code on Cultural Heritage and Landscape").

Comparison with other similar properties

Unlike other walled cities such as Lucca, Ferrara, etc., Bergamo has been organised in accordance with a bi-polar structure ever since Roman times; this structure has been retained throughout its long history, and was ultimately affirmed by the creation of the Venetian Walls with their ramparts, which separated the Città Alta e Città Bassa.