The Campanone, the Museum of the Venetian Age and the Roman Archaeological area are all accessed by the same door, what would have been the main entrance of the Palazzo del Podestà (the Governor’s Palace) and so it makes sense to allow time to visit all three at the same time.
The information on the Palazzo bemoans the fact that, for some time in the past, it ‘became used for purposes which were not in keeping with its historical importance’ but when it was decided to renovate the building for tourist purposes important archaeological finds were made. As the Christians always built over, and very often using the worked stone from, older Roman buildings it wasn’t a real surprise when Roman remains were found.
Together with the excavations made underneath the Cathedral (which can be seen by visiting the Museum and Treasury) these, more recent discoveries give a fuller picture of what would have been the most important area in the Roman settlement, the Forum.
This is only a relatively small area but a lot can be seen and deduced about the city known as Bergomum, a name it held for close on 800 years. A fine section of wall was almost certainly part of the Forum and other walls indicate workshops and taverns, as well as gutters and sewers. What I found particularly interesting were a couple of lengths of lead piping used to supply clean water – I couldn’t understand why something so valuable had not been looted hundreds of years ago. Mixed in with the Roman ruins were remains of buildings from Mediaeval times – but no water supply pipes or sewers – the Renaissance period might be important for its artistic development but there was little in the way of civilising everyday life.
Information boards on the walls supply more details, in both Italian and English.
There are a few places where you can get a ‘bird’s eye’ view of the town but the Campanone/Civic Tower is one of the best (rivalled only by the Gombito Tower) as this looks down on both the Piazza Vecchia, with its 18th century Contarini fountain as well as the Piazza del Duomo with the Cathedral, the Basilica de Santa Maria Maggiore, the Colleoni Chapel and the Baptistery.
The name Campanone means Big Bell and comes from the biggest of the three bells at the top of the tower. This was originally used to sound the curfew in Mediaeval times and is still sounded at 22.00 each night to try to get the tourists out of the bars in the square below.
There’s now a modern lift to take the pain out of the walk. I’m not sure how they got away with that. It’s all very well making these places accessible to as many people as possible but I’m not in favour of that if it means the destruction of parts of an ancient structure. You can still walk up and down but on modern, concrete steps and not the originals that would have been worn down over the centuries. It really changes the atmosphere as you go to the top.
I’m sure the lift wasn’t there when I first went up 4 or 5 years ago but couldn’t get the exact information as the lad in the ticket office wasn’t sure. World Heritage Status (which I don’t think Bergamo has) isn’t enough to protect the past – as I’ve mentioned elsewhere – but there surely has to be a limit to what can be done in the name of accessibility. And I’m cynical enough to think that these works are carried out more for the potential tourist Euros than anything else.
Try to go up and down on the steps, it’s probably better for your health, even if you take it slowly. At the top you get a fine view of the major buildings in the centre of Città Alta as well as the newer town in the valley and the snow-capped – there was still a fair amount of snow on some of the tops when I was there during the first week of May – Alps to the north.
The third place to visit in the Palazzo del Podestà is the very new and high-tech Museum of the History of the Venetian Age. To me this was a huge disappointment. It advertises itself as ‘interactive’ but I found myself being assaulted by information in a way I’ve not experienced at any other museum I’ve ever visited.
It uses the most modern aspects of computer graphics, it’s imaginative, it’s very clever but it did nothing for me. The interactivity comes from: moving your hands over different names; opening drawers to operate a projector to show contents; placing blocks into slots to initiate information about the development of printing during the height of Venetian economic and political power. There’s also a very clever presentation about the sort of recipes that were created with the arrival of all the new foods and spices in Europe from the Orient due to Venice’s role in international trade.
There’s a audio-video presentation which follows a timeline from 1450 to 1600 showing how the rest of the world became known to the Europeans with the travels of Marco Polo by land and then Megellan, Vasco de Gama, Columbus and Vespuccio, amongst others, by sea. This is informative and does provide a visual picture of how the world seemed to be getting bigger for the Europeans.
When it comes to the victory of Cortes over the Aztecs and Pizarro’s over the Incas it becomes more political than I’ve seen in any such presentation in what would be considered a museum for general consumption. Central America becomes splattered with blood as does the north-west Pacific coast of South America. This trail of blood then goes back across the Atlantic to land on Spain’s door step, with the commentary that this was all due to the thirst for gold.
Now that’s all true and it’s good to see it being presented as such. However, I doubt whether that would have been presented in the same way if it were the Italians who had first landed on Hispaniola. By holding a virtual monopoly over trade with the Far East Venice had, more or less, encouraged other countries to get into the world exploration game. Instead of investing in the future Venice stuck with what it knew and controlled and therefore not going out into the unknown.
There’s also an element of sour grapes as this gold, paid for with so much indigenous American blood, was what eventually kicked started the economic development (and ultimately the industrial revolution) in the UK and northern Europe – aided in a not insignificant manner by the activities of ‘El Pirata’ Francis Drake.
However interesting that particular section might have been I honestly felt there was a lot missing. To have gained much more you would have had to have invested a lot of time and energy in playing with the technology. Perhaps someone brought up on computer games might find it interesting, it was probably designed by such people, but it left me cold.
Also everything was in Italian although English language tablet computers and earphones are available.
November to March
Tuesday – Friday 09.30 – 13.00 and 14.30 – 18.00
Weekends and public holidays 09.30 – 18.00
April – October
Tuesday – Friday 09.30 – 18.00
Weekends and public holidays 09.30 – 20.00
Closed: Mondays, except for holidays.
Archaeological Area – Free
Under 18 – free
Museum of History of the Venetian Age
Under 18 – free
There’s a Joint Ticket that covers these three locations as well as the La Rocca – the museum of the 19th century; the Donizetti Museum; and the Former Convent of San Francesco which costs €7.
Entrance to all these places are free with the Bergamo card.