CITY AND POPULATION BETWEEN 1700 AND 1800


[Farmers]

After the changes in the urban structure during the napoleonic age, between the end of the 18th and the second half of the 19th century the political, social and economic city-centre moved from Cittą Alta to Cittą Bassa. The districts named Borgo S. Leonardo, Borgo S. Antonio, Borgo Palazzo and Borgo S. Caterina increased the number of their inhabitants considerably; the expansion of the Fiera, of the trades and of the industries helped to create not only new urban areas and meeting points (for example the Sentierone) but also taverns, dreary inns and brothels in the most popular districts. Piazza della Legna (now called Piazza Pontida) became the most important part of town in a very short time, while in 1837 the new city boundaries were drawn in Porta Nuova and a few years later, in 1857, the train station for both goods and passengers was opened, then, as a conclusion of this process, in 1870 the new prefecture house was built and in 1874 the building of the Local Magistrate's Court in Cittą Bassa became the new town hall which had been located up to then in Cittą Alta. The lay-out of the Ferdinandea (now divided into Via Papa Giovanni XXIII and Viale Vittorio Emanuele) road was very important for the new shape of the town because it connected the lower part with the built-up area on the hill. It started from the train station and arrived as far as the Porta Sant'Agostino. The construction of this road started in 1883 in order to celebrate the visit of Ferdinando I and in a very short time it became the main thoroughfare and was decisive in the redefinition of the whole shape of Bergamo. Along this street new built-up areas, barracks and commercial places developed rapidly, so it became the most important part of the town and this was the reason why both the middle class and the aristocracy moved towards Cittą Bassa.

The new forms of urbanization at the end of the 18th century were determined by both the huge attraciotn of the commercial centre (Fiera and Piazza della Legna) and the establishment of the first textile industries along the city irrigation ditches and produced deep social and demographical changes. From 1780 to 1881 (year of the first post-unitary census) the town population increased from 31.000 to 39.000 inhabitants, with an increase of the number of the employed population (from 9.000 to 18.000). From the employment point of view, the first post unitary census, described a very complex reality: the agricultural activities lost their importance in favour of all those activities that could guarantee the services to the town middle class (such as tailors, milliners, high quality shops) and of the new needs of the masses (such as primary schools, popular shows, theatres, taverns and so on). In 1881 the number of jobless people (15.222) was very high due to the fact that very few people could find steady jobs instead of seasonal ones.

The number of poor people assisted by the relief organizations (269 in the town only) was very high as well. During all the 19th century the health conditions of the town and of the province was alarming. For example, the death-rate in the Civil Hospital of Bergamo was about 10% of the total number of the admissions, with a difference in the percentage of dead people between females and males of about 3,5 points. Pellagra, pulmonary consumption, diarrheaand catarrhal fevers gave a great contribution to the increase of the death-rate. In particular, pellagra was the illness that struck mostly the area of Bergamo: in 1830 there were 6.071 people affected by pellagra in the province of Bergamo (corresponding to the 30% of the affected in whole Lombardy) and in 1856 there were 8.522 of them (23% of the total in Lombardy). Pellagra was caused by lack of the vitamin P.P. (Pellagra Preventing), which was eaten in the Polenta. Corn became the main nourishment and for many farmers the only one and this fact produced irreparable harm to people in the rural area.

Together with measles conditions, epidemics were also frequent during all the 19th century. They included typhus, cholera, smallpox and scarlatina and determined a steep rise in the death-rate. In the main town hospital, Ospedale Maggiore, some special rooms were used to assist all the people who had been struck by the epidemics. In order to cope with the state of emergency, new branches of the hospitals were opened every time. These hospitals were usually opened in deconsacrated convents, which had been supressed during the Napoleonic Age, and became the operational centres of relief organizations.

Picture : Vincenzo Bonomini, "The Farmers", a macabre-grottesque subject of the first years of the XIX century.