View of Piazza Vecchia in Bergamo.

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Piazza Vecchia


The Upper Town's beating heart is the cafe-clad Piazza Vecchia, lined by elegant architecture that is a testament in stone and brick to Bergamo's long and colourful history. Its highlights include the Palazzo Nuovo, Palazzo del Podestà, Palazzo della Ragione and the Torre del Campanone. Tucked in behind the secular buildings of Piazza Vecchia, Piazza del Duomo is the core of Bergamo's spiritual life

Le Corbusier apparently described Piazza Vecchia as the 'most beautiful square in Europe' – good thing they didn't let him try out any of his ideas on it. Had he done so, he'd have been following a certain precedent. The Renaissance square was created by levelling the huddle of medieval housing that once stood there.

The white porticoed building on Via Bartolomeo Colleoni, which forms the northern side of the piazza, is the Palazzo Nuovo. Designed in 1611 by a brilliant architectural mind from Vicenza, Vincenzo Scamozzi (1548–1616), it was not actually completed until 1928. Long the seat of the town hall, it has been a library since 1873. Diagonally opposite, on the northwest side of the square, the Palazzo del Podestà was long home to Venice's representative in Bergamo.

Looming overhead, the massive, square-based Torre del Campanone tolls the old 10pm curfew. Originally raised in the 12th century and partly used as a jail in the 14th, it has undergone numerous alterations. In 1486, cheerful citizens lit a bonfire atop the tower to celebrate a religious holiday. Oddly, they didn't foresee that this would lead to the timber roof catching and burning to a crisp, leading to one of many renovations. Lighting fires is no longer allowed but you can take a wheelchair-accessible lift to the top, from where there are splendid views.

Turn south and you face the imposing arches and columns of the Palazzo della Ragione, built in the 12th century. The lion of St Mark is a reminder of Venice's long reign here. It's an early 20th-century replica of the 15th-century original, which was torn down when Napoleon took over in 1797. Note the sun clock in the pavement beneath the arches, and the curious Romanesque and Gothic animals and busts decorating the pillars of the arches. Today the Palazzo houses temporary exhibitions.

Lonely Planet's must-see attractions

Nearby Bergamo attractions

1. Palazzo della Ragione

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The imposing arches and columns of the Palazzo della Ragione sit at the southern end of Piazza Vecchia. Built in the 12th century, it bears the lion of St…

2. Torre del Campanone

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Bergamo's colossal, square-based Torre del Campanone soars 52m above the city. It still tolls a bell at 10pm, the legacy of an old curfew. Taking the lift…

3. Palazzo del Podestà

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On the northwest side of Piazza Vecchia, the fresco-dappled Palazzo del Podestà was traditionally home to Venice's representative in Bergamo. Today, the…

4. Palazzo Nuovo

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The white, porticoed Palazzo Nuovo defines the northern side of Piazza Vecchia. Designed in 1611 by a brilliant architectural mind from Vicenza, Vincenzo…

5. Museo e Tesoro Della Cattedrale

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Down the steps right next to the duomo, this glittering museum is filled with sacred art and reliquary from the cathedral's collection, as well as…

6. Cattedrale di Bergamo

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Roman remains were discovered during renovations of Bergamo's baroque cathedral, with an interior dating to the 17th century. A rather squat building, it…

7. Baptistry

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This octagonal baptistry was built in 1340 but moved to its present spot and was given a few neo-Gothic flourishes in 1898. Inside, you'll find bas…

8. Torre di Gombito

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For a wonderful view from one of the highest points in the old town, climb the 12th-century Gombito Tower. Visits must be reserved in advance at the…