According to popular tradition, in 1133, the local people promised to built a church dedicated to the Madonna, if the city will be spared by the plague that threatened the northern Italy.
The church was built in 1137 on the site of another church from the 8th century, which in turn was built on a pagan temple dedicated to the goddess Clementia.
The exterior of the church testifies its construction in two different phases: in the first phase, were built the apsidal area, the northern arm of the transept and the lower part of the southern arm in gray sandstone, with square ashlars, while the remaining parts were built in the second phase, in light ocher sandstone, with rather small ashlars.
With the central apse and the transept built, the high altar was consecrated in 1185, and the presbytery and apses on the east side of the transept were completed in 1187.
Work slowed down during the 13th century due to economic difficulties. However, the blind facade and the atrium were completed. Another porch was added, subsequently demolished for the construction of the Colleoni Chapel.
During the 14th century, the baptistery was built, and between 1436 and 1459, the bell tower was erected by Bertolasio Moroni. The north-west apse was demolished in 1472 by Bartolomeo Colleoni to make room for his chapel. In 1521, the south-west portal, known as Porta della Fontana (Fountain Door), was built by the architect Pietro Isabello.
The interior of the church underwent various transformations during the 17th century, carried out by Francesco Maria Richini, Giovanni Angelo Sala and Giovanni Barberini. In the same period, the lantern was also remodeled.
ART AND ARCHITECTURE
The basilica is characterized by the lack of a main portal. The four entrances to the church are all lateral. The one in Piazza del Duomo, known as the Red Lions, is adjacent to the Colleoni Chapel, two are made by Giovanni da Campione and the fourth is Porta della Fontana by Pietro Isabello.
The central apse is crowned by a loggia with barrel vaults, delimited at the top by two frieze with geometrical and vegetables patterns.
The interior of the basilica has a Greek cross plan with a nave and two aisles divided by pillars, which end with an apse.
Near the entrance, we can find the sepulchre of Cardinal Guglielmo Longhi, work by Ugo da Campione, and on the rear wall is the tomb of the composer Gaetano Donizetti, by Vincenzo Vela.
In the presbytery, which houses six bronze candelabra from 1597, there is a wooden choir designed by Bernardino Zenale and Andrea Previtali. On the right altar dedicated to San Marco, there is the altarpiece of Ognissanti by Antonio Boselli from 1574.
The matroneum (women gallery) displays the treasure of the basilica, and is accessible from the left transept through one of the minor apses reopened to the public.
HOW TO GET THERE
Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore is located about 2.2 kilometers from the Bergamo railway station. The closest bus stop is in Viale delle Mura, near the junction with Vicolo Bettani, about 250 meters away, on the bus Lines 1 and 10. To find the church on foot, use the map below.