Historical development and transformations
Between the Eneolithic and the late Bronze Age a settlement in
the area of the present-day Colle della Rocca must have already
Later on, around the 5th century BC, perhaps as a result of the
Celtic penetration, an aggregation of a proto-urban built-up area
was created, culturally close to the Golaseccai people, but ethnically
linked to the Alpine area. In the 4th century BC, the life of
this built-up area seems to have been interrupted, while some
findings point out the presence of Gaulish populations on the
Eastern slopes of the hills.
In the 1st century BC, the Romans established the built-up area
as the main centre of a wide territory, and they built an oppidum
on the hill to protect the Northern borders. In spite of the difficulties
deriving from the morphology of the place, the layout of the town
was characterized by fortified city walls, by a network of roads
and public buildings: there were a theatre and an amphitheatre
on the West side, where the Seminario now stands, the forum around
today’s Cathedral Square, the capitolium to the North-East.
The city obtained the title of Latin colony in 89 BC and the inhabitants
acquired Roman citizenship in 43 BC.
During the Imperial age the built-up area began to lose part of
its strategic role, but at the same time to strengthen its administrative
and political one; this reached the peak between the 1st and the
2nd centuries AD. The military and administrative reform of the
4th century, not only incorporated Bergamo in the Regio Veneta,
but also enshrined the conditions for the continuity of urban
life in the following centuries.
Like all the north of Italy, Bergamo suffered from the invasions
of the Alemanni and Ostrogoths (488 AD) and of the Longobard (568/569
AD): these last settled throughout the territory, as is confirmed
by archaeological findings.
During the Longobard period, the dukedom of Bergamo witnessed
violent autonomist movements, culminating in the revolt of Duke
Gaidolfo against King Agilulfo; this revolt ended with the death
of the rebel (590 AD).
Later on, the king defeated Cremona with the help of Bergamo and
yielded to their jurisdiction some lands of Cremona, thus heralding
the subsequent de facto independence of Bergamo from royal control
In the eighth century, Rotari, the duke of Bergamo, was involved
in the dynastic disputes of the kingdom, but he had to retreat
to the city, proclaiming himself king. The consequent siege and
the definitive defeat decreed an end to the whole dukedom, which
henceforth would be ruled by mere royal chamberlains.
In June 774, Charlemagne conquered Pavia. Under Frankish rule
the chamberlain was replaced by a count. The political role of
the city was further reduced after the succession crisis which
followed the death of Ludovico II (875), from which Guido of Spoleto
emerged victorious. In 894, Arnulf come down from Germany in order
to defeat Guido and besieged Bergamo, his enemies’ key stronghold,
which capitulated within two days. With the seizure of Bergamo,
Arnulf was recognized all over Italy, but soon after (896) he
withdrew again to Germany.
In 951, Otto the Great occupied Pavia, and a new family of counts
asserted itself in Bergamo.
The crisis of imperial rule became terminal when, in the 10th
century, the king and the counts were not able to face the Hungarian
invasions. New local forces, the bishop and land owners, strove
successfully to fortify the city and the courts, acquiring de
facto public rights over them. The crisis levelled social subjects
subjecting them to the new powerful classes, but in some cases
the local fortress constituted their own communities; also in
the city the cives were more and more involved in the episcopal
rule and built the Town Hall after the struggle for the investitures.
After swiflty affirming itself, the power of the Bergamo municipality
was weakened because of civil discords from the 12th century.
In Bergamo two factions opposed each other: the pro-imperial feudality
and the city bourgeoisie, guided respectively by the Suardi and
the Colleoni families. A civil war initially gave power to the
pro-imperial party, confirmed in 1202. Between 1226 and 1229,
after repeated fights, the Suardi re-established their predominion.
In 1236 Bergamo swore its fidelity to the Emperor, who from the
following year sent his own minister plenipotentiary.
From the 30’s of the thirteenth century, with the emergence
of a new municipal organization, the Suardi and the Colleoni were
supported by new families, such as the Rivola and the Bonghi,
who could call on greater popular support.
In March 1296 the factions of the Suardi and the Colleoni fought
again in the city. The Suardi called in their aid the Ghibelline
Matteo Visconti, Lord of Milan, and they overwhelmed their adversaries.
The city accepted a Visconti delegate as praetor, but, after fleeing
to Crema and forming an alliance with the Rivola and the Bonghi,
the Colleoni rebelled. In the fight the city was devastated, the
Pretorio Palace and the Episcopal Palace were set alight and in
the end the Suardi and the praetor were turned out.
The 14th century saw the rivalry for power in the city between
the factions of Guelphs (Colleoni, Rivola and Bonghi) and of Ghibellines
(Suardi, Mozzo, Terzi and Lanzi). After a short period under John
of Bohemia, from 1332 Bergamo fell under the steady dominion of
the Visconti. In the second half of the century, their lordship
was characterized by continuous fighting between the troops of
the two factions.
This instability enabled Venice, supported by the Guelphs, to
intervene and to occupy Bergamo (1428) and, from the second half
of the century, to establish a domination characterized by relative
peace which permitted notable economic, political, social and
At the beginning of the 16th century Venice, as part of the Cognac
League, tried to break the Spanish predominance in Italy. The
subsequent military events showed clearly the Republic’s
weakness and the necessity to prepare modern defensive structures
on the mainland. In Bergamo too were built new city walls, and,
at the same time, thanks to an extraordinary period of economic
prosperity, work was done on a renewal of the built-up area and
In 1630, a great plague hit the inhabitants of Bergamo hard and
its surroundings: there were 99.332 deaths in a population of
186.187; for nearly two centuries, the local economy and social
life entered in a period of stagnation. With the arrival of the
French revolutionary army at the end of eighteenth century the
first Bergamasque Republic was proclaimed and then, in 1797, it
was annexed to the Cisalpine Republic.
After Napoleon, Bergamo passed to Austria, but the by then deep-rooted
revolutionary and nationalistic ideas led to a social awakening
and a strong economic development. As a result of a series of
wars and uprisings the city was finally freed by Garibaldi and,
from 1860 became a part of the state of Italy.