The locals in Bergamo, Italy really, really love their famous wall and broke a world record just to prove it.
Question: Where in the world did thousands of locals put on a massive public display of affection just to make people pay attention to an old wall?
Answer: The Venetian Walls of Bergamo, Italy
A 3.7-mile circle of bastions, cannon mounts, gates, and secret tunnels, the Venetian Walls surrounding Bergamo Italy are literally no small feat. Erected in 1561 by the Republic of Venice, they were built of heavy stone intended to withstand the forces of attacking enemies, but they did something else instead: they withstood the march of time. Bergamo was never besieged, the walls never came under fire, and today they look much as they did 456 years ago. But last year, the walls found themselves in an unusual position: they were the ones being surrounded.
The people of Bergamo love their wall and they’ve been trying to get a little love from UNESCO for a decade. Back in 2007, the city applied to have the walls included on the World Heritage List, feeling certain that their cultural and architectural value merited a spot. The process is not a quick one in general, but for applicants in Italy, home to the greatest number of sites in the world (43 at last count), it can be even slower; UNESCO is more likely to pursue nations with fewer sites first, and it must weigh any new Italian site against the existing ones. In 2016, Bergamo reached the final stage before approval, and it decided it was time to prove their ardor.
On a sunny July afternoon, 1,260 locals turned out to outline the Venetian Walls. Once given a command to start, a hug chain—one person turning to hug the next, who hugged the person after that, and so on—rippled along the walls like nothing ever seen in its history…or the world’s. Guinness World Records was on hand to document the tidal wave of embraces and, when finished, proclaimed it a world record for Longest Hug in History. No word yet on whether this display helped the city's application at all, but officials in Bergamo say they hope their beloved walls win the UNESCO designation this year.
6 More Things to Love in Bergamo
- Lantro Fountain: Built in the 16th century, the underground Lantro Fountain isn’t so much a fountain as it is a subterranean version of a water tower. The twin-tank wonder holds a whopping 105,000 gallons of water. An ingenious system that lets sand and other sediments filter down from one tank to the other below results in refreshingly pure water drawn from the top.
- The Funiculari: Pumpkin-colored, accented with a jaunty racing stripe, the funiculars of Bergamo have been lifting visitors upward since the first opened in 1897 and the second in 1912. Two separate trains run continually, one rising to the old town, and the other continuing upward to San Viglio. At a 52-degree angle, the train is steep enough for a modest thrill but not a terrifying ride.
- Piazza Vecchia: The plaza at the center of the medieval town was built atop the site of the ancient Roman Forum and famously known for its harmony and loveliness. Legendary architect and urban planner Le Corbusier described Piazza Vecchia by proclaiming, “You can’t move a single stone—it would be a crime.”
- Contarini Fountain: The late 18th-century fountain at the heart of Piazza Vecchia was a gift from Bergamo’s representative in Venice, the town’s former magistrate, Alvise Contarini. It became popular with locals not for its elegant ring of white lions holding chains in their maws, but for the respite it offered on hot days in the unshaded plaza. A hundred years later, town officials replaced it with a statue of the Italian revolutionary Garibaldi, but the locals complained about the swap continuously until the fountain was returned in 1922
- Palazzo Nuovo/Civica Angelo Mai: Bergamo’s Palazzo Nuovo, its Town Hall until 1873, is now known for two reasons: being home to one of Italy’s oldest library collections, including incunabula (books printed in the first fifty years of moveable type); and for the six lounging human figures draped across its exterior window frames. Half-dressed and seemingly engaged in idle chatter with their companions, they represent Craftmanship, Industry, Agriculture, Work, and the rivers Brembo and Serio—but you’ll have to inquire within to learn who is who.
- Il Campanone: In the 11th and 12th centuries, the Piazza Vecchia was a construction zone as locals watched the Campanone rise and rise. Topping out at 150 feet, it was the tallest building in the city, during a time when noble families were competing to erect the highest tower. Il Campanone isn’t just eye-catching; it’s functional. A small bell rings out each hour, and a giant bell, added in 1656, chimes 100 times at 10pm, just as it has done every night for 361 years.
Fall in love with Bergamo yourself when you join us on our new Northern Italy: the Alps, Dolomites, and Lombardy adventure.