The Historical Museum of Bergamo is located in the splendid S. Francesco Monastery, built in 1292 on the hill of Bergamo for a franciscan community. In the monastery there were two cloisters, which can be still visited, the friars' cells on the first floor and a Church. All these areas were frescoed, according to the themes which were peculiar to medieval piety and franciscan spirituality.savoy
The monastery offered a wonderful view on hills and valleys in the northern countryside and a quiet place for body and soul; therefore the most important noble families choosed it as their Pantheon in late medieval period and in the Rinascimento. Still today graves and armorial bearings of those families can be seen inside the monastery.
The alternated periods of independence and dominations in Bergamo influenced the monastery life. In 1798, after the proclamation of the Republic of Bergamo and the arrival of napoleonic army, the monastery was closed and transformed in a prison for political prisoners, a transformation which was finished by Austrian troops in 1821, when they also pulled down the wondefurl and recently renewed church.
During the gloomy Austrian government, which ended when Garibaldi set Bergamo free in 1859, a lot of political prisoners -they were patriots of the Risorgimento- and smugglers of brandy and silk waited for their death in the cells of the medieval building; who came out from the monastery set out for his death on "the condemned stairs": he was shot on the highest tower of Bergamo stronghold. Today the stairs can be still covered: it links up the monastery with the stronghold.
When Bergamo became part of the Italian Kingdom the monastery was quit. It has been deeply transformed in this century and became a school in 1937.
Today the history of S.Francesco monastery revived as it hosts the Museum of Bergamo: its frescoes, its medieval and Renaissance graves, its armorial bearings, its cloisters, the apses of the destroyed church evoke six centuries of the town history.
In the monastery the most significant events in the history of Bergamo and Italy are presented, from the Republic of Bergamo to the Resistance, together with "minor events" as the history of society and customs, the economy and the popular piety.
1917, 1959, 1996: THE EVOLUTION OF THE HISTORICAL MUSEUM OF BERGAMO
The Historical Museum of Bergamo was opened with the name of "Civico Museo del Risorgimento" during the First World War in 1917 with the didactic aim to create in the youngest people the idea of Country. According to its aims, the Museum of Bergamo was similar to the ones of the Civic Museums of the Risorgimento opened in Italy in the last 10 years of the 18th century in order to show the Rinascimento as an exemplum and as a purification of the population, to help people to identify themselves as Italians in both a Country and a State and after the rising of 1849, to explain ethic and moral values of the war and the revolts which helped to solve the betrayals of kings, emperors and Popes and to create the Country.
In all the Museums of the Risorgimento were shown the revolts, the volunteers' actions, the victories of the Cacciatori delle Alpi, the adventures of the Mille and of their Duke rather than the wars of Independence, especially the third, or the victories of the Savoia army. In particular, the expedition to Sicily represented for all the Italian people the war which was not seen as a fight between two armies but according to the memories of Bandi, one Genovese of Garibaldi's soldiers as "una gran pazzia... giudicata di poi opera egregia e principalissima tra le sue pił belle". The representetion of the adventures of the Mille consisted in both official and popular symbolic abstractions such as Garibaldi on his horse, the capture of Palermo, Garibaldi's reshirts, certificates and diplomas of presence at the expedition, and so on.
Very few months after its opening, the Museum of Bergamo received a big quantity of materials sometimes single pieces (the redshirt, the military certificate, the medal of the Mille) other times real symbolic and emotional relics (for example the piece of bread given to Mr Frizzoni by a Croatian, the skull of the Milanese needle-woman, Garibaldi's lock, the clay trampled by the Duke of the Mille, the piece of flag torn to the Austrians and so on). The last ones were very important to the Museum especially in the years 1917 and 1959 because they represented examples of heroic deeds, extreme sacrifices and suffering and joy of a whole population.
Even the re-organization of the Museum in 1959 followed the same themes of its foundation. There was the introduction of a new section about the Resistence seen as "the third Risorgimento" (such as the Risorgimento, the First World War and the Resistence) in other words as the definitive liberation of the Italian people from the German domination but not about the historical period of Fascism and of the Second World War.
Today the organization of the Historical Museum of Bergamo is quite different because it shows the latest historical interpretations of the events.
The main element of the ostensive reconstruction is not the told-history base on the most famous local historical facts, but the description of the "total" history of the human activities, of the political and economical organizations, of the social relationships, of the productions of ideas which influenced the whole area. By doing so, the Museum meets all the requests of qualified knowledge coming from both the school and the different civil sectors of our society, helping not only to widespread a critical knowledge of the past but also a more responsible historical knowledge of the surrounding reality in which the visitor lives and works.
The aim of the Museum consists not only in preserving and showing the national relics with their evocative, educational or symbolical values but also in preserving all the materials that can be "socially useful" such as all those ichonographical documents that are good instruments for the knowledge and the resource of the history of the town and of its area.
The new Museum had a didactic character and its exposition is arranged according to traditional chronological divisions and precise subjects. The aims of this organization consist in showing a clear history, which has not to follow famous events and people and has not to be taught only in short passages as in the past (such as for example the importance of Bergamo in the development of both the town and the country during the 19th century). It has to show all the single phases of the political-institutional transformations and the influences they had on the reality of Bergamo and consider the characteristics of the town seen in both the local and national history.
Picture:Francesco Coghetti, "The S.Francesco monastery".