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Located in Lombardy, in the foothills of the Alps, Bergamo wasn’t quite what I expected. It was the final day of our tour round the Italian lakes and the next day we were flying back to Cyprus, so Bergamo was our last stop.
This is a town of two distinct halves. The lower, modern era town is chic and Italian trendy while the upper half, perched atop a hill, is a medieval citadel, a fortress with impressive walls and architecture going back hundreds of years. We picked up a new guide on the way through the new town. She was an expert on the old part of the town and though her expertise were welcome, I did have trouble following her broad Italian accent because of the noise.
As the coach stopped and we all piled off the coach, the guide showed us where we were on a large map of the area put up for the convenience of tourists like us. She told us where we were going, what we would see and what time we would have to be back to catch the coach. Her tour lasted 45 minutes and as soon as we started she was battling against a couple of street musicians whose PA system was more powerful than her own. Not to mention the 20 foot Brontosaurus surrounded by excited and naturally noisy school children.
Add all that to her unfortunate habit of adding ‘a’ to the end of many words, “The cat-a, sat on-a, the mat-a,” and you will understand that I was not quite getting the gist of what she was telling us. Then came the invasion of even more school kids, seemingly most of Italy’s noisy teen students all descended on Bergamo at the same time we did. Bergamo, you see, is very much a tourist and educational hot-spot. But I have to admit, though looking forward to seeing the old buildings and hearing the tales attached to them, I was a little disappointed at first.
The towers, the architecture and the piazza were all impressive but not quite as impressive as equivalent places I had visited in Rome. There was very little in the way of restoration work to some of the buildings and though the guide tried to expalin what certain buildings should have looked like, it was hard to imagine. There were two things I really appreciated, a mausoleum and a meal. The meal was lunch in the Piazza. Pasta with meat sauce, but not your normal tomato based sauce, this was a white sauce and it was very tasty.
We sat in the piazza and ate our lunch, people watching while we we ate. It was a rather pleasant way to spend an hour or so, in lovely old surroundings with a lot of people to-ing and fro-ing through the piazza.
The mausoleum, the second thing I appreciated on this tour, is the tale of a man who would never take no for an answer, a man who got things done, his way.
The Cappella Colleoni (Colleoni Chapel) is a church built in dedication to saints Mark, Bartholomew and John the Baptist.
It’s also a personal shrine and mausoleum for the Condottiere Bartolomeo Colleoni. Colleoni (no, not the same family you’re thinking of) built the chapel in the late 15th century, between 1472 and 1476. However, the location had a rather large problem in the form of the Sacristy of the Church of Santa Maria Maggiore… it was already occupying the location Colleoni had chosen. So, Colleoni employed the sort of tactics his famous fictional namesake from The Godfather would have been proud of. He arrived at the chosen location in the dead of the night with a bunch of his own soldiers and they proceeded to demolish the sacristy that already stood there.
“Behold,” he declared the next day, “there’s loads of room for my church and mausoleum.”
Okay, I made the last bit up, but he sounds the sort of person who would have been pretty theatrical in all he does. You only have to look inside the place and see his golden statue atop his favourite horse, sword drawn ready for battle, to see that.
All in all a good trip, but boy was it noisy.
Copyright © Tom Kane 2019