Going Behind Closed Doors in Bergamo’s stunning Villa Pesenti Agliardi & Palazzo Agliardi
Picture gently rolling hills, the greenery of breath-taking countryside interspersed with a mosaic of captivating historic villas, and tiny villages scattered in the midst of luxuriant nature, all just twenty minutes’ drive from one of the most enchanting medieval cities in the whole of Italy. No wonder Stendhal described Bergamo and the surrounding area as “the most beautiful place on earth” when he began his love affair with the country in the early 1800s – this part of the world is truly a land of wonder and one of the most delightful and surprising places to discover for a day visit, or even longer…
As well as being classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Bergamo also has a prodigious number of stately homes or dimore storiche in its centre and the neighbouring districts, many of which are privately owned by families who have handed down their heritage from generation to generation over centuries.
The residents of Villa Pesenti Agliardi and Palazzo Agliardi have been in situ for over five hundred years, and take great pride in showing visitors around their homes and gardens by prior appointment, sharing stories of their ancestry in person, and accompanying guests through the spacious halls, private chapel and stunningly decorated rooms dating back from the end of the 1700s.
The Agliardi name is steeped in history, and can in fact be traced right back to the early 11th century, when the King of Hungary and Bohemia arrived to set his roots in Bergamo. Directly descended from one of the three most important families established in the city since medieval times, you can trace the entire family narrative in one fine sweep when passing through the amazing frescoed hall on the first floor, shown in the extraordinarily detailed painting of their genealogical tree which is displayed on the far wall.
Back in the fifteenth century, ancestor and celebrated architect Alessio Agliardi was closely linked to local man and fearless mercenary captain Bartolomeo Colleoni, one of Italy’s best known political movers and shakers during the Renaissance period. His final resting place, the Colleoni Chapel, is considered to be perhaps the most beautiful building in Bergamo – high accolade indeed, given the wealth of stunning buildings throughout the Upper Town, and one not to miss when exploring the central Piazza Vecchia area. To this day, a member of the Agliardi family sits on the city’s Lungo Pio Council, which administers the assets bequeathed by Colleoni, a position that has been passed down directly from generation to generation for over five hundred years.
Moving fast forward to the mid-19th century, Paolo Agliardi married the last descendant of the Pesenti Counts, Marianna, uniting the two families at the already existing Villa at Sombreno. Along with his three sons, Paolo was an active member of the Risorgimento movement which resulted in the successful unification of Italy, and the hereditary bravery also passed directly through to his niece Laura, who sadly lost her life while working as a volunteer for the Red Cross, and his sister Elena, who headed up the Bergamo Red Cross for many years and completed successful missions in Africa, Spain and Albania.
Villa Pesenti Agliardi is home to a number of splendid century-old trees, including this imposing Himalayan cedar, considered to be one of the largest trees growing in Lombardy, as well as some ancient oak trees and a group of Sequoia redwoods. Originally commissioned in the seventeenth-century, the Villa was extended and modified in 1798 by one of the leading authorities of neoclassical architecture of the time, Viennese Leopold Pollack. Although his brief to transform the home and gardens so that they combined Pietro Pesenti’s political ideals of the Enlightenment with Neoclassical elements was not fully realised, the Villa is quite possibly a unique testimony of its times and the plans of the original project are still on in display inside the stately home.
While walking round the extensive gardens you can stroll past the Najade Fountain, the Obelisk and the Temple of Silence which were created during that period, and which today provide popular backdrops for those memorable ‘cutting of the cake’ photos at the many wedding celebrations that are hosted here. Whether choosing to get married in the local church or the stuccoed 17th-century Sanctuary just nearby, or tying the knot in a civil ceremony which can be conducted at the Villa itself, the idyllic setting lends itself beautifully to what is truly a magical “Midsummer Night’s Dream” atmosphere.
The Villa has also welcomed some very illustrious guests in the past, including the legendary Maria Montessori, who pioneered the educational method which is still taught in many schools throughout the world today. Maria was a family friend and was often a guest at Sombreno. A true claim to fame: the portrait chosen to feature Montessori on the 1,000 Lira banknote printed in her honour was actually taken from a photograph snapped in the Villa’s gardens – and proof of the pudding is in the group photograph taken with her that is displayed in the living room!
It’s also possible to step behind closed doors to discover the family’s Bergamo townhouse, Palazzo Agliardi. Located just a few minutes’ walk from the gateway to the walled Upper Town in the historic Pignolo district, the Palazzo has yet more notable links with Bartolomeo Colleoni, as it was his nephew who constructed the original building back in the height of the Cinquecento period. Fabulous frescoes dating from the Palazzo’s complete Settecento restoration adorn the ceilings in the sweeping reception rooms, while there’s a wonderful photo opportunity to be had in the hanging gardens outside, with their panoramic view of the medieval city perched on the top of the hill.
Nowadays, the equine influence is purely decorative, but it’s perfectly easy to conjure up the sound that would have been heard in days of yore of horses’ hooves clip-clopping their way past the covered loggia and into the Palazzo’s unique stables on the lower level which have been lovingly restored and can be visited as part of a private tour by the owners.
Unsurprisingly, this a is a very popular venue for special corporate events and wedding parties for up to 100 guests, with the added draw of marriage ceremonies that can take place in the local church next door or in the magnificent church of San Michele al Pozzo Bianco with its out-of-this-world frescoes by Lorenzo Lotto. It is also possible to organise a daytime tour accompanied by the owners as part of a planned itinerary, and even to stay and enjoy a private candlelit dinner – guaranteed to be an unforgettable and unique holiday memory that is an exclusive experience and a true taste of the very best that Italy has to offer.
Villa Pesenti Agliardi is located approximately 20-30 minutes’ drive to both Bergamo’s train station and the Orio al Serio airport; Palazzo Agliardi is a 20-minute walk to the central Piazza Vecchia of Bergamo Upper Town, 10 minutes’ drive from Bergamo’s train station and approximately 20-30 minutes from the Orio al Serio airport.
For more details of planning a visit to Bergamo, the Villa Pesenti Agliardi and Palazzo Agliardi, and for further information about the private candlelit dinners and assistance with transportation to and from destinations including Milan, which is less than an hour away, please email [email protected].
All photos of Villa Pesenti Agliardi and Palazzo Agliardi with thanks to the Agliardi family.