Upper City and Lower City: the secrets of Bergamo
What is that long iron bar, with different measurement units, doing mounted there beside the cathedral doors? Why does the bell of the most important medieval tower ring one hundred times every night at 10:00? Questions, sometimes trivial, sometimes fundamental, that evoke the most intimate heart of a place or an entire city.
What type of questions does Bergamo suggest in people who are, for the first time, wandering its streets, the cobblestones of its many asymmetrical market squares, in the shadows of cloisters and porticoes?
Every person from Bergamo will tell you that they have had to answer this question at least once in their lives: “Above or below?” Usually the person asking the question is imitating the local dialect, a difficult language even for locals, generally resulting in an unclear phrase that is somewhere between comical and incomprehensible.
The question arises automatically outside the city limits because, as everyone is aware, Bergamo is really two cities in one, the Upper or Old City and the Lower or Modern City. The upper part, nestled in the hills, was the core from which the rest of city grew, the civic “big bang” that started everything moving. The lower part came later, but not much later ti telle the truth, and immediately became the more introverted heart of Bergamo. The two parts have always been closely connected, the first linked to power and presentation, the other with business and work.
The distinction is so clear-cut, it can be seen from miles away. The impressive Mura Venete, or defensive walls, surrounding the city define this difference.
From quite some distance away, its medieval roots are clear. The austere style of the towers and bell towers are evidence of these roots. While the organisation is medieval, it is also true that, over time, the city has been enriched by structures in various styles such as Renaissance buildings, Baroque stuccos, facades in Neoclassical style and houses in the stark style of the 19th century. These additions are well-incorporated in the medieval backdrop, so much so that the impression one gets walking in Upper Bergamo is that of having entered a parallel world, one that came to a halt several centuries ago. What is the timepiece of this organism that still gives off an energy from the Age of the City-States? Move quickly along to Piazza Vecchia, the old public square, because from there you can begin to find some answers and unravel the ages-old tales of the city, because it is in this area that you can truly feel the sense of suspended time.
Tell us about the secrets of the cities you love.