Upper City Bergamo: Palazzo della Ragione

Its name derives from “ratio”, which in Latin means “public administration”, and in the Age of the City-States, the city council held its meetings, conducted its proceedings and welcomed ambassadors in this building.

The style of this particular building is austere, with three arches at the base that open onto a large exposed gallery. The loggia is supported by imposing columns. They appear to be the same, but looking closely, the capitals are each unique. Some have been sculpted with small men holding each other’s hands, other columns have flowers and strangely fashioned animals.

Today the front faces Piazza Vecchia, but up until the middle of the 15th century, the wide, open space did not exist, and the building faced Santa Maria Maggiore and the Duomo. It wasn’t “rotated” until 1453. The new facade was refined by adding a pair of triple lancet windows. To the right, stairs were constructed leading to the upper level and the gallery was opened in order to link the administrative area with the religious one.

In 1513, the Spanish ravaged the city and intended to ruin this building that symbolised the people’s power; it was, in fact, nearly completely destroyed by fire. However, the people of Bergamo did not lose heart and in 1520, the architect Pietro Isabello refurbished it. He redesigned the upper level, creating a single, large room with a tiled floor. It became known as the “Sala delle Capriate”, “capriate” referring to its double-pitched roof with wooden trusses that did not have supporting columns. In addition, he raised the stairway that led to the building entrance through a footbridge along the facade which, at the same time, allowed access to the nearby Palazzo del Podestà. Later, the large central window was added, with Saint Mark’s lion above it.

Today the “Sala delle Capriate” room conserves frescoes removed from local churches and houses. Among the most famous, although also the most damaged, is Bramante’s fresco on the façade of the Palazzo del Podestà.

Now, look downward. You will notice a strange elongated line. It is a meridian, or sundial, a measurement tool based on the position of the sun. Look up at one of the capitals and you will find a plate with a hole. It is a gnomon, the part of a clock that projects its shadow on the sundial.

The tradition of puppet theatres began under the porticoes of Palazzo della Ragione around the 17th century. The popular comedy style known as Commedia dell’Arte includes the character of Gioppino, a common man from Bergamo, coarse but sharp-witted, who can be immediately identified by his three goitres.

Author: Martina

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