Hiding in the shadows of Basilica di Santa Maria and not far from Cattedrale di Bergamo, you’ll find a place that few know about and even fewer still venture up to. The tiny octagonal chapel of Romanesque Tempietto di Santa Croce dates back to the 11th Century and is a real hidden gem of Bergamo lying in plain sight. And yet, thanks to its dominating neighbours, few scholars, let alone tourists take an interest in its ancient and worn façade…
Tempietto di Santa Croce: a hidden gem of Bergamo Upper Town
Founded at some point during the 11th Century, the octagonal chapel of Santa Croce was first referred to in a document of 1133 as the ‘capella episcopi’ (bishop’s chapel). Now, you’ll find that the chapel is located adjacent to the Episcopal Palace, a place where beautiful frescoes are painted on the walls and you’ll find respite from the flocks of visitors that head to Bergamo’s main square, Fontana di Piazza Vecchia.
It’s thought that the middle ages chapel was first decorated in around 1360, though the evidence of decoration was not discovered until recently. Indeed, so little was the interest in the Santa Croce chapel that it was not restored until the 1930s.
If you manage to visit the interior today (sadly inaccessible when we visited Bergamo), then you’ll be rewarded with four beautiful frescoes of Jesus’ life. They were painted by Cristoforo Baschenis the Younger. To the upper walls and dome of the chapel, you’ll see a fresco and bas-reliefs thought to be by Francesco Coghetti.
Bergamo Old Town
The oldest part of Bergamo sits high up, away from the train station and above the Venetian walls that have since become a symbol of the town. Tempietto di Santa Croce lies in the very heart of Bergamo Alta (High Bergamo), an area filled with medieval, Renaissance and Gothic architecture.
The old part of Bergamo is best explored on foot (the roads are pretty tiny, after all!) and is best appreciated over the course of a few days. If you’re planning to spend a week or so in Northern Italy, I highly recommend a visit to this often underrated European town!