License: Creative Commons - Attribution Author: Dimitris Kamaras
Train is the best way to get to Bergamo: going out of the railway station, you have an immediate and wonderful overview of the city. Your sight follows a straight line going up to Porta Nuova
, the heart of the Lower Town. Raise your head just a little bit and your eyes will be filled with the majestic and perfect landscape of the Upper Town.
In 1837, the old wicket gate nestled in the “Muraine”, the massive XV Century walls that used to surround the hills and go down to the Lower Town and the old districts, was replaced by an iron gate opening a breach in the defensive walls: it is Porta Nuova (“New Gate”).
This place represented the main gateway to the commercial area of Bergamo for a very long time. Today, it is still the main junction around which the main streets and monuments of the Lower Town lie.
The “Ferdinandea” street was inaugurate in 1838 on the occasion of the visit of the Austria Emperor Ferdinand I, and it’s currently called Viale Vittorio Emanuele II: along with Viale Roma and Viale Papa Giovanni XXIII, it represents the main axis leading from the Lower Town to the Upper one. Fields originally surrounded it, but soon it became one of the most relevant roads of the town, where beautiful palaces were built, both public and private. The modern town developed itself around this street and Porta Nuova, featuring an ever-changing and industrious beauty, deeply related to work, shopping and everyday life.
From Porta Nuova, you have the best view over the district built on the Città Alta hill. The skyline of palaces, towers, campaniles, domes and walls strikes you with its glorious beauty. The architect Marcello Piacentini reshaped the urban centre behind Porta Nuova in the early XX Century, and was wise enough to design low buildings, so that everyone could admire the Città Alta.
The neoclassical twin-buildings dominating Porta Nuova on both sides are called “propylaeums
”, that means “what stands in front of the gate”. Till 1901, in fact, they were used as a Customs House, which used to control the entrance of goods and assets to town: an iron gate used to block the way. Those who wanted to enter the town had to pay a tax on good, just like a modern customs.
Besides being used for defensive purpose, the Muraine were also a customs border. Once the customs duty was eliminated, they were torn down. Anyway, there are still some surprising traces of them in a few spots of the city. One in particular is quite evident: it’s the Galgario tower, cylindrical, with a truncated cone base, rising solitary among a busy road.