00025: BERGAMO, LA CITTÀ DIVISO IN DUE
The city of Bergamo, in the region of Lombardy Italy, is located about 25 miles north of Milano and about 18 miles south of Switzerland. I mention its location because no other city is further north in Italy than Bergamo. There are very small towns or villages, like Oneta–in the Province of Bergamo with 700 people–but no city is found further north.
Bergamo is divided in two: Città Alta and Città Bassa (Upper Bergamo and Lower Bergamo.) Città Alta is the old part of the city and Città Bassa is the new part of the city. As the older part of the city, Upper Bergamo is characterized by narrow cobblestone streets and Venetian walls. In fact, the look of Città Alta is a combination of Medieval and Roman architecture. Upper Bergamo is not only at a higher level than Lower Bergamo but it is also encircled by a massive wall, known as the “Venetian Defense System,” which today is a UNESCO Heritage Site. There are four entry gates around the Città Alta, and only one of them is used by both, people and vehicles. The other three are only accessible by foot. Because of its altitude, most people reach Upper Bergamo using the funicular or the bus. That said the majority of national tourist and local people actually walk the steep streets from the lower to the upper level.
Città Bassa is the new part of Bergamo and thus the most modern. This lower area mixes Venetian, Roman and modern architecture. There as many cobblestone streets as paved streets here. And unlike the upper level, Città Bassa is far bigger with many wide streets, modern buildings, businesses, governmental offices, a train station, an airport, a very expansive public transportation system, several piazzas, and, of course, modernization. Most residence of the city of Bergamo live in Città Bassa. This is also where most tourist end up staying when visiting Bergamo. People also live in Upper Bergamo, but living there is a luxury not a necessity.
Back in the 1500s, Upper Bergamo was the place where the rich, the educated, and the influential citizens lived while Lower Bergamo was inhabited by the poor, the mostly uneducated, and farm workers. When it comes to commedia dell’arte, the city of Bergamo is the place where two characters come from: Brighella and Arlecchino. Brighella is from Città Alta while Arlecchino is from Città Bassa, and knowing the socio-economic dynamics of these two parts of Bergamo help us understand the personalities and characteristics of these two commedia dell’arte characters.
Today though, most local people don’t think of Brighella as someone from Bergamo but rather from Milano. And while mostly everyone recognize that Arlecchino is from Bergamo, mythical history has placed his birth in the town of Oneta, a province of Bergamo, 20 miles farther up north from the city. While visiting Milano, I did not find any signs of Brighella, and there are hardly any signs of Brighella in Bergamo (there’s a reason for that, which I will discuss later.) Yet, when it comes to Arlecchino, the city of Bergamo recognizes and honors this commedia dell’arte character the most.