Another period that has considerably enriched the Bergamask territory is the Romanesque era. Several important examples are found in the Cavallina Valley and Calepio Valley, in particular in Spinone, Villongo and Credaro. But it is the Almenno Romanesque Park, a few kilometres from Bergamo, which condenses Romanesque structures of great value, including the well-preserved Bridge of Clanezzo and the extraordinary small church of San Tomé.
Video Gallery: art and culture in Bergamo and local area
Video Gallery: art and culture in Bergamo and local area
At the court of Queen Teodolinda, Romanesque splendours in Almenno
Let’s face it, the story of Queen Teodolinda is a good one. There was a time when there wasn’t an elderly person in Lemine (as the place was called before it was divided into two towns: Almenno San Bartolomeo and Almenno San Salvatore) who didn’t hold the fabulous queen responsible for every ancient or unusual old house in the area, which is situated at the beginning of the Brembana and Imagna valleys and crossed by the River Brembo. They said it was Queen Teodolinda who built the church of San Tomé and the beautiful churches of Madonna del Castello, San Giorgio and San Nicola, and was even responsible for building the bridge whose ruins still emerge from the exposed bed of the river. They said she became involved in these works while waiting for her husband who was away commanding his armies at war.
Stories and legends aside, it is well known that Queen Teodolinda really existed, but her name is linked more with Monzache than the area of the two Almennos. Furthermore, the churches are Romanesque and so were built at a later time, and the famous bridge with its majestic arch over the river predates the age in which she ruled. It was, in fact, the Romans who built this bridge on the road that led from Bergamo to the San Martino Valley and to Lecco. But all this doesn’t diminish the popularity of the “Agro” (countryside) of Lemine, which has always been known for its beauty and which still captivates visitors with its hilly farmland and vineyards. Formerly frequented by the Romans, Lemine was also connected with Longobard counts and the bishops of Bergamo. It is said that even the Emperor Charlemagne had a palace here. A legend? Almost certainly, but it can’t be ruled out that messengers and people from the imperial court visited the area
Sanctuary of the Madonna del Castello
Here are some of the real facts behind these legends. The sanctuary of the Madonna del Castello, standing tall on the banks of the River Brembo, not far from the ruins of the famous bridge, was the site of castle and parish church which played a role of great importance. Today, beside the church lies a sanctuary built in the fifteenth century following a miraculous event involving a fresco of the Madonna and Child, that dates back to sometime before 1100. The interior is very striking: the end wall of the sanctuary is in fact made from the façade of the church, which is now accessed through a side door. This primitive church has a Romanesque structure. Its crypt even predates the Romanesque period and features a very beautiful ambo – a raised platform from where lessons were read – which is an example of Romanesque art that is considered exceptional, even in European terms, for the quality of its sculptures and their state of preservation.
Church of San Tomè
A few kilometres away – a gentle walk of less than an hour, and again near the River Brembo – lies one of the most important records of the Romanesque period, not only in the Bergamo area but in the whole of Lombardy. This is the Rotonda of San Tomè. Called a “Rotonda” because of its circular shape, it was inspired by the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem (this was the time of the first Crusades). The capitals and columns reveal that it was made with materials from a far older building. Excavations carried out near the foundations have brought to light a Roman tomb, and it is said that a pagan church once stood on the site. A small monastery stood alongside San Tomè, which was later transformed into a farmstead. It has now been careful restored and today its old walls play host to a study centre – the “Antenna Europea del Romanico” – which holds conventions, exhibitions and other events.
Church of San Giorgio
Even the Church of San Giorgio can be reached with a short walk from San Tomè. Previously standing alone in the fields, this solidly constructed church preserves a splendid cycle of frescoes dating back to the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, one of which depicts the great St. George on his white horse. These frescoes are considered the most important example of medieval painting in the Bergamo area.
Church of San Nicola
The Church of Santa Maria della Consolazione, known also as the Church of San Nicola, sits on the opposite hill, among splendid vineyards. It dates back to the sixteenth century and, inside, an extremely rare example of a sixteenth-century organ (1588), built by the Antegnati family, has been preserved in an excellent condition. After being exquisitely restored, is still used today for concerts. The church and convent dominate the surrounding countryside, which is cultivated and slopes down to the Brembo River. It is also a place of excellent wine and good cuisine
The Romanesque in the "bergamask island"
From the heart of the provincial capital, which has always been the a bishop’s seat, the itinerary covers the plain between the rivers Brembo and Adda, the “Isola bergamasca" (Bergamo River area).
Thanks to the strategic position of this area, straddling the direction towards Lecco and the Orobic Pre-Alpine valleys with the lower Milanese and Bergamo plain, there were many settlements and consequent places of worship of which the fine Romanesque examples are living examples with an architectonic expression varying from the rigour of monasteries of the Cluny order to the majesty of basilicas linked to mysterious Lombard legends.
St. Egidio's Abbey
The Romanesque Abbey of St. Egidio (Aegidius), situated in the village of Fontanella, was commissioned by Alberico da Prezzate, a Bergamasque nobleman and founder of the nearby monastery in Pontida, with which he was originally associated. After an early period of important socio-economic activity, a period of decline began in the 13th century that saw the complex change hands several times and undergo architectural alterations between the 14th and 17th centuries. Only in our century, under the control of the Servite Order, has the abbey returned to life as a place for meditation.
Chiesa di S. Giulia - Bonate Sotto
The picturesque remains of the ancient Romanesque basilica of St. Julia (12th century) in Bonate Sotto are in the area of the cemetery. Restorations in later periods transformed them into a funeral chapel.