Bergamo – a side trip from Milan

Spending a week in Milan last fall gave us time for side trips.  One day we took the train to Bergamo, about an hour away.  Bergamo is a hill town with a Citta Bassa (lower town), and a Citta Alta (upper town), and the Hill of San Vigilio, with funiculars that tie them together.  Citta Bassa was built in the 19th century at the foot of the ancient upper city walls.

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A funicular delivers you from Citta Bassa to Piazza Mercato delle Scarpe in the Citta Alta.

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We wandered past cafes and shops along narrow cobblestone streets….

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Arriving at the Piazza Duomo.

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The Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore was begun in 1137.  Over the next six centuries, it underwent a lot of changes.  The main façade lost its entrance when it was combined with the Bishop’s Palace.  In the mid-14th century a “new” entrance porch (vestibule) on the north side of the Basilica was built by Giovanni da Campione. 

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The lions and columns are Veronese marble.

The inside of the Basilica is enchanting.  It felt smaller and more intimate than others we’ve seen.  It is decorated with beautiful frescos, statues, and Flemish tapestries, which give it a warmth not usually felt in large spaces.  I loved the black and white marble floor tiles, too. 

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The composer, Gaetano Donizetti, was born in Bergamo and is buried here.

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The Colleoni Chapel was added to the basilica in 1476.  It is the mausoleum of a famous commander and his daughter.

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The Baptistery was built in 1340.

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The 12th century Torre del Campanone is in the Piazza Vecchia along with the Contarini Fountain from 1780.

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We had a fabulous lunch at Mimi – an Italian pot roast with polenta for Will and a meat ravioli for me. 

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We took another funicular to the top of the hill above the old city, to the ruins of the Castle of San Vigilio.

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There are great views from up here, but this day the air was smoggy/smoky from wild fires in the north.

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It’s a pretty park on any day.

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Back down the hill on the funicular…..

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And another walk through Citta Alta.

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Halloween cookies are the same in any language…. Minions and Spider-Man too!

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One last ride on the funicular takes us down to the lower town for our return to Milan.

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A great day in Bergamo!

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More Sites in Milan

Continuing our week in Milan last fall.… we visited the canal, Naviglio Grande.  Built between 1177 and 1257 and over 30 miles long, the canal gave land-locked Milan a port.  Today the Naviglio Grande area is home to shops, galleries and cafes.



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Chiesa di San Maurizio dates back to 1503 and was built into the ancient city wall.  This is a former Benedictine convent.  It is now used mostly as a concert venue and the convent buildings are the Archaeological Museum of Milan.

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The vaulted nave is floor to ceiling frescos.

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The Hall of Nuns is behind the alter wall.  The pipe organ was built in 1554.

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Just down the street is Santa Maria delle Grazie, the home of Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper.

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You need reservations to see the Last Supper.  They let in around 30 people every 15 minutes.  That doesn’t sound like much time, but it is adequate.  Some sights have so much hype around them – we were prepared to be underwhelmed.  It’s much larger than I had imagined.  But coming face to face with Da Vinci’s Last Supper and reading about how much time he spent understanding the characters, their placement and back stories helps to explain why this piece has had such an impact on art over the centuries.

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The painting is in the refectory (dining hall) of the convent.  The last supper was a common theme for refectories.  The work was painted between 1494 and 1498.  The arched lunettes above the painting are the Sforza coat-of-arms.  The painting was to be a gift to the monastery (or bribe) from the Sforza family to have their family tomb located in the church, which actually never came to be. 

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Due to Leonardo’s method, painting in layers on the wall rather than in wet plaster (fresco), signs of deterioration began to appear just a few years after it was finished.  Environmental factors and past restorations have also damaged the painting.  The most recent restoration was finished in 1999.  This pic is from Wikipedia showing WWII bombing damage to the surrounding walls!  The Last Supper is behind scaffolding to the right. 

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You can read about the Last Supper and restorations here.

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On the opposite wall of the refectory is the Crucifixion fresco by Giovanni Donato da Montorfano.   Leonardo added figures of the Sforza family in tempera.

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A few blocks away is the Basilica di Sant’Ambrogio.  It was built by Saint Ambrose on top of an early Christian martyr’s cemetery in 380.  In the 12 century it was rebuilt in this Romanesque style.  The right bell tower dates from the 9th century and the left one, begun in 1128, wasn’t finished until 1889.

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From the street, you enter an arcaded atrium.  Rick Steves explains that this was standard in many churches when you could not enter the church unless you were baptized.  The unbaptized could wait here during Mass.

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The gold altar along with the 12th century canopy was taken to the Vatican to avoid damage in WWII.  In 1943 the apse took a direct hit.  This mosaic is a reconstruction of the 13th century one that was destroyed. 

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The pulpit sits on top of a Christian sarcophagus from the year 400.

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We really enjoyed our week in Milan.  Our apartment was in a great neighborhood near the Sforza Castle.  It was busy with shops and restaurants. 

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One could easily miss the entrance to our building but the small theater across the street had a unique front.

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This was a great restaurant down the street.

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One of our favorite meals!

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