Brescia and Bergamo have been nominated Italian Capitals of Culture 2023 for their cultural and artistic richness. To celebrate this occasion, the Light is Life exhibition will host six special guests – Angelo Bonello, Chila Kumari Burman, Marco Lodola, Federica Marangoni, Ivan Navarro and Oliver Ratsi – and will illuminate Brescia from 10 to 19 February and Bergamo from 17 to 26 February. If you have a genuine curiosity about Brescia and Bergamo and are tickled by the idea of visiting it while they are dressed in this triumph of light, in this article we will discover their wonders and secrets, discovering once again how surprisingly fascinating northern Italy can be.
Brescia is known as the ‘lioness of Italy’, as Carducci called her for the courage she showed during the 10-day revolt against the Austrians (23 March-1 April 1849). This city boasts an exceptional historical and artistic legacy and has been a World Heritage Site since 2011. The UNESCO site includes the archaeological area with the Forum Square, the Capitolium, the Republican Sanctuary, the ancient theatre, the Roman Basilica and the monumental complex of San Salvatore – Santa Giulia: a place of exceptional historical and artistic importance and the city’s main museum.
what to see
Piazza della Loggia: the square at the heart of Brescia
Dominated by the eponymous Palazzo Loggia, Piazza della Loggia is one of the city’s meeting places and was designed in the mid-15th century on the site of a medieval market, with contributions from Palladio and Sansovino. Here stands the Clock Tower, built in 1540 and famous for the Màcc de le Ure, the two characteristic bronze statues that ring the bell every hour. On Saturdays the square hosts a market, while all year round it is the ideal meeting place for a coffee at the small tables and some shopping in the shops under the arcades. Just a few steps from the Piazza lives the Quartiere del Carmine, the centre of the youth movida, which is criss-crossed by ancient alleys and beautiful churches, historic buildings, taverns and small after-dinner venues.
castello di brescia: a magnificent view over the city
The Castle of Brescia (built between the 14th and 16th centuries) stands on the Cidneo hill, the site of the first settlement of the city in the Bronze Age. Perfectly preserved, it enjoys a magnificent view over the city and allows one to stroll through its greenery and lose oneself along alleys, lanes and itineraries that touch on one of the oldest and most prized vineyards in all of northern Italy. The structure is made even more evocative by a double drawbridge and Ghibelline battlements, harking back to the times when it lived its great splendour. We recommend a visit to the dungeons and the underground tour, which will allow you to fully experience the spirit and history of the castle. Only 15 minutes by food from the centre of Brescia. WEBSITE
Piazza dei Due Duomi: Brescia’s meeting point of the new and the old
The dialogue between the city’s two cathedrals takes place in this square: the new – the summer Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta and the old – the winter Co-Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta. Of particular beauty is the old cathedral (dating from 1100), a round stone building, inside which are the beautiful mosaics of an early Christian basilica and the remains of a Roman baths facility. The square also houses the Palazzo del Broletto with its crenellated tower, which is the oldest public building in the city.
Museo del Risorgimento
In view of the unmissable year that will see Brescia and Bergamo as Capitals of Culture in 2023, the Lioness of Italy will roar again on the cultural front, anticipating the reopening of the Museo del Risorgimento with a renovated architectural space. This place will be a true ‘museum of narration’, which means that it will propose an itinerary capable of weaving a narrative weft that – through the use of multiple media – will give rise to an experiential structure involving the visitor in a journey of knowledge and exploration. At the centre of the exhibition complex will be the Atlante, a tool at the disposal of the visitor that will allow him or her to delve into the geopolitical events that led to the current European configuration. WEBSITE
tempio capitolino: the Roman memory of Brescia
Together with the theatre and the remains of the City Forum, the Capitoline Temple is part of the most important complex of Roman public buildings in northern Italy (UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2011). It was the heart of the Roman centre of Brixia (today Brescia), which was considered one of the most important Roman cities along the Via Gallica. Today you can admire the remains of the temple, a series of Corinthian columns and inside the wonderful polychrome marble floors with geometric decorations from the 1st century AD.
museo di Santa Giulia: a coffer of ancient beauty
Covering an area of 14 square kilometres, the Santa Giulia Museum stands on the site of the women’s monastery of S. Giulia and contains a Lombard basilica, a 16th-century church and the remains of a Roman domus. This complex bears witness to the artistic and spiritual life of Brescia from prehistory to the present day, with no less than 11,000 exhibits.
The Lombard church of San Salvatore, built in 753 AD by King Desiderius, houses rich sculptures and priceless artworks. On the upper floor, the hall is entirely frescoed, from the star-studded vault to the scenes on the walls. Here is the Cross of Desiderius, a 9th century A.D. cross with Longobard and Roman decorations, enriched with no less than 212 gems. This magnificent structure is flanked by the church of Santa Maria in Solario, a 12th century oratory from which nuns secretly attended services.
Among the Roman artefacts surrounding the Renaissance cloister is the Winged Victory of Brescia, a bronze figure made in the 1st century AD, depicting a woman with angel wings, wrapped in a cloak. It is the only case of a perfectly preserved bronze statue in northern Italy (due to the fact that Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire, all pagan symbols were destroyed), which has come down to us because it was cleverly hidden in a hollow in the temple. WEBSITE
Pinacoteca Tosio Martinengo: an artistic collection signed Brescia
Visitors to Brescia should not miss a visit to the Pinacoteca Tosio Martinengo, which houses an astounding collection of 480 works by the most important authors from the 13th to the 19th century, including the protagonists of the Renaissance, from Raphael to Lotto, and the major exponents of the 19th century, including Canova and Hayez. WEBSITE
What to do
Brescia underground: an exclusive view of the city
The visit to the subterranean city offers an exclusive itinerary to discover all that is hidden below street level, with various routes through rivers, canals and irrigation ditches. The main tour lasts about two hours and starts right under the aforementioned Piazza Loggia, with guides explaining step by step all the curiosities and history of this priceless and magical underground level of the city. WEBSITE
where to eat
Typical of Brescian cuisine is undoubtedly the famous Polenta Taragna, a coarse polenta with a rustic flavour that has delighted the palates of Nordic peoples for centuries. To continue the gastronomic journey, you cannot miss the Pirlo, an aperitif to be enjoyed in the bars and restaurants of the centre; made with lemon peel, white wine, red bitter, soda, accompanied by bertagnì (fried codfish). Among the first courses, you should try Malfatti (gnocchi made with bread, milk, butter, eggs, fresh spinach and nutmeg, boiled and seasoned with butter and sage) and Casonsèi bresciani (homemade ravioli filled with meat or vegetables, flavoured with butter and fresh sage and Parmesan cheese). Typical Brescian main courses include beef cooked in extra virgin olive oil, which is prepared with passion and dedication through a long cooking process that gives it the consistency of a cream.
Named after La Nonna, Dina is a contemporary, quirky restaurant situated in the Franciacorta. Here, each recipe is crafted by Chef Alberto Gipponi, a pioneer of the culinary industry who takes the concept of tradition and reinvents it completely with a series of culinary techniques. Embark on a journey via one of two tasting menus: 5 courses and 9 courses that represent the finest of ingredients – all within the welcoming atmosphere of the restaurant. WEBSITE
Situated inside a historic building from the early 18th century, Veleno is a restaurant both deeply rooted in history with its majestic halls and exceptional quality culinary offering. Executive Chef Fabrizio Albini proposes a menu that evokes the territory, taking his guests on a trip to the mountains, the lake, the countryside – always paying meticulous attention to the provenance and quality of his ingredients. WEBSITE
La Piazzetta 2070
We recommend sitting at one of the tables at La Piazzetta 2070. Located on the outskirts of the city, it is a small, well-kept restaurant with excellent seafood cuisine. In addition to fish delicacies, it offers a rich cheese trolley, especially from Brescia and Bergamo, and an excellent wine list. WEBSITE
Bistrot & Trattorie
This taste laboratory has a multifaceted gastronomic offering ranging from breakfast to lunch with burgers, pizza by the slice and raw fish. However, in the evenings the restaurant changes mood and the offer broadens to include elaborate dishes. The kitchen is a veritable workshop of creativity, while the ambience in the restaurant is inspired by industrial design: vintage elements have been used for the furnishings and the walls are painted a distinctive silver colour. This place also boasts a large outdoor terrace with a pergola, where in fine weather you can enjoy the surprising warmth of this northern city. WEBSITE
Lanzani Bottega & Bistrot
Lanzani Bottega & Bistrot is a multifaceted location where you can head for a delicious meal, a glass of wine, a coffee and croissant but also a place where you can order a light bite to take away. Alessandro Lanzani, owner and cook has created a modern space for those ‘taste good, feel good moments’. A convivial setting where you can enjoy an array of traditional specialties revisited in a contemporary key.
From Around the World
If you’re looking for oriental cuisine then look no further. Oriental Areadocks is a Japanese restaurant where you’ll find sushi, sashimi, wagyu, black cod and many more traditional dishes – including your mochi for desert.
CAFFÈ & BREAKFAST
At Pasticceria Veneto, owned by the Brescian pastry chef Iginio Massari, nominated best pastry chef in the world at the World Pastry Stars in Milan, there is no shortage of typical desserts. Here you can find the Bussolà (from the Venetian word ‘salvagente’, meaning lifesaver), a round cake with a hole in the centre made of butter, leavened and perfumed; and the Persicata, a delicious jelly made with pieces of peach and caramel. WEBSITE