Bergamo: Citta Alta
Citta Alta is full of twisting, winding streets, small specialty shops, and stunning views of the Alps and lower Bergamo. A piece of real estate in Citta Alta is some of the most expensive in Italy, and its small size makes for a competitive market. It's a cozy, private little town and people flock here, especially in the winter.
But for history lovers, the real draw is the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore.
It's one of the more unusual cathedrals I've come across and can best be described as a hodge podge of architectural styles built over and around each other, all piled upon the original site: a Roman temple to the goddess Clemence dating back to the first few centuries.
Portions of the ancient Roman foundation can be seen in a basement-level museum underneath the cathedral. It's not much to look at via a computer screen, but to literally walk among the thousand year old artifacts, floors, walls, and columns is eerie and humbling.
Around the 8th century, a small church dedicated to St. Mary was built over the original Roman site. Fragments of frescoes are still visible from that particular renovation.
In 1137, the foundation for the majority of what still stands today was began. A bell tower was added in the 1400's, the final portal was completed in 1521, and after a few 17th century modifications, the cathedral was finished. Though it still looks a bit unfinished, don't you think? Kind of looks like it's in the midst of an identity crisis; unsure as to whether it wants to be simple and medieval or fashionable and gothic.
In any case, the interior is pretty magnificent. The frescoes are gorgeous and everything is trimmed with gold. The majority of the inside work was done in the 17th-18th centuries, so it has a lighter, less depressing look to it, as opposed to the dark, gloomy cathedral interiors of centuries prior.
Bergamo also has a number of bell towers, one of which you can climb up to the top for spectacular city views (I feel like I use some variation of "spectacular city views" in nearly every post...)
But really, how else am I supposed to describe these views?
If you're into skiing, I could see why Bergamo is a great place to stay for the winter. Otherwise, it makes for a good day trip. The train ride from Milan is short and cheap, and it's just a fifteen minute walk from the Bergamo station to the lift that takes you up to Citta Alta. Aside from the cathedral, there's also a small but impressive collection of northern Renaissance art, a castle-turned history museum (closed when I visited), and enough shopping and dining options to fill out the day. All in all, a charming little town.