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Architecture • Culture • Excursions

Bergamo-Brescia: Italy’s double Capital of Culture 2023

5 min. reading time

For the first time, two cities are going to be sharing the title of “Italian Capital of Culture“. For 2023, Brescia and Bergamo have received the coveted title. Throughout the year, both cities will be full of cultural highlights and events. Brescia, the provincial capital of Lombardy, is only 40 Kilometers from Eden Reserve Hotel & Villas and Gardone Riviera. Bergamo can be reached from Brescia in another 45 minutes by car.

Brescia – 2000 years of history to behold

The historic centre of Brescia, with its churches and squares, palaces, and ruins from Roman times, seamlessly documents 2,000 years of history and has always made the city a worthwhile destination for a day trip from Lake Garda. Despite its beautiful location and the highly interesting old town, Brescia was overshadowed by the cities of Trento and especially Verona from the point of view of Lake Garda holidaymakers. This should now change this year thanks to the spectacular year-round cultural program for Bergamo-Brescia.

Bergamo also shares the fate of being an unknown beauty. Although this city is one of the most beautiful in northern Italy, many visitors are wrongly drawn to nearby Milan. The joint, successful application for the two cities of Bergamo and Brescia to be Italy’s Capital of Culture is the result of the will to put the two urban Lombardy beauties in the right light.

Bergamo – the city with two faces

Bergamo is a city with two faces. The lower town, Città Bassa, represents a highly active industrial city, and the employment rate is exceptionally high for Italy. Above the town is the Città Alta, a listed monument that is enthroned on a hill and enclosed by its fully preserved five-kilometre-long city wall. It is a different world that visitors enter through the city gates. Car-free, narrow cobbled streets lead to the Piazza Vecchia. Anyone entering this central square for the first time will be touched and highly impressed by the beauty of this urban ensemble – with the town hall, the city tower, the magnificent church buildings, and the gorgeous palazzi.

Piazza Vecchia in the Città Alta – “one of the most beautiful squares in the world” (Le Corbusier)

The famous architect Le Corbusier is said to have described the Piazza Vecchia as one of the most beautiful squares in the world. The city’s cathedral, Bergamo Cathedral and the Romanesque Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore can also be found here, as well as the 15th century Grand Cappella Colleoni, with its famous frescoes by Tiepolo, painted from 1732 onwards.

A fascinating way to reach the Città Alta is to take the funicular, which connects the lower region of Viale Vittorio to Piazza Mercato delle Scarpe in the old town.

A walk exploring architectural highlights from Brescia’s rich history

For guests around Lake Garda, nearby Brescia is a worthwhile destination for several excursions. Here you will find the largest excavation site for Roman buildings in northern Italy, and the old town has been a World Heritage Site for twelve years. Not only can you travel back to Roman times on a tour of the city, but there are also very impressive buildings from the Middle Ages, Renaissance and Baroque periods to visit. Everything can be reached on foot thanks to the architectural highlights not being far apart.

Piazza Vittoria, in the historic centre of the city, is the most important square in Brescia. It was built between 1927 and 1932 by the architect and urban planner Marcello Piacentini on the site of part of the medieval city centre. Among other things, the famous classic car race Mille Miglia starts and ends here.

The centre of the city is the Piazza della Loggia, which dates back to 1433. The spacious square is flanked by impressive buildings, such as the Palazzo della Loggia from the Renaissance period, today the seat of the city administration. The clock tower Torre dell’Orologio is still in use; the mechanically complex and beautifully designed clock was made around 1545. The oldest part of the cathedral near the square dates from the 11th and 12th centuries and is one of the most important buildings from this period still standing.

Capitoline Temple & Vittoria Alata: A Day Trip to Roman Times

Life in the old town is bustling and lively, but it is a little quieter at Brescia’s biggest highlight, the Roman Forum in the east of the city. Here you can admire excavations from Roman times. Next to the remains of a Roman settlement is the Roman Theatre, and the Via dei Musei, which also leads to the Capitoline Temple. You can still see many frescoes on the exposed walls and very beautiful mosaic floors. As well as the Vittoria Alata, a 195 cm high bronze statue from the imperial period and one of the most important finds in Italy. It was the archaeologist Giovanni Labus who interpreted the ‘winged woman’ as a representation of the goddess Victoria.

Rich people must have lived in Brixia, as the city was called in Roman times. For centuries, this part of the city was buried under tons of rubble and earth, and it was not until the 19th century that excavations began. Since 2011, Brixia, with its fascinating archaeological excavations, has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

“La Città Illuminata” – the Bergamo-Brescia 2023 project

Brescia, like Bergamo and its surroundings, was severely affected by the Covid-19 pandemic and from the winter of 2020 in particular, the impact was huge and the number of victims was high. Therefore, the Ministry of Culture supported the will of both cities to come together the Bergamo-Brescia Capital of Culture 2023 as a compensation for the tragic experience. Culture is to become a catalyst for innovations and visions in the most diverse areas of coexistence. Under the project name “The Luminous City” and “La Città Illuminata”, four thematic areas will provide orientation for the many events and initiatives planned for the year: “The City of Hidden Treasures”; “The City as a Natural Space”; “The Creative City” and “Culture as a Remedy.” These thematic areas see culture as the most important means of provision, social life, and shared well-being.

Four thematic pillars carry a rich event programme in 2023

On these pillars, a rich program of events will unfold throughout the year, in collaboration with public and private organisations: These include meetings and conferences, competitions for artists, exhibitions, festivals and music festivals. In addition, the creation of nature trails, steps towards raising awareness of environmental sustainability, sporting events and finally, infrastructural improvements to access to cultural sites are also part of the program.

A year full of cultural highlights near Lake Garda

Music and dance projects are also organised, such as “Land Music”, which commemorates the victims of Covid-19, or “Agorà. Neighbouring Cities”, a popular dance show with audience participation, staged both in the cities and in the regions by the famous choreographer Virgilio Sieni. Theatre projects on the theme of health will also occur, such as “Silent Days, White Nights. The time of Care”, a performance by the health staff of Bergamo Hospital, which aims to offer a collective reappraisal of the pandemic experience.

There are definitely enough incentives for summer and autumn to rediscover Brescia and Bergamo and to visit the abundance of the most diverse events of the Bergamo-Brescia 2023 Capital of Culture.