Gombit Hotel and the history of Bergamo
The GombitHotel is located in an extraordinary context in view of the history of its buildings and unique location alongside the Torre del Gombito, the famous Ancient Wash-house di Via Lupo and the Church of San Pancrazio.
The Torre del Gombito in Bergamo is a key structure of historical importance. City guardians and military have controlled access to Piazza Vecchia from its heights since the Middle Ages. Towering 52-metres, its iconic shape defines Bergmao Alta’s skyline. The tower was built in the 12th century at the intersection of the two most important thoroughfares in the high town, Via San Lorenzo Mario Lupo and Via Gombito; it belonged to the powerful Ghibelline Del Zoppo family.
The name “Gombito” derives from the Latin “compitum” which means crossroads: traditionally, the place that marked the road network of the city at that time. In Latin the crossroads of intersecting roads are called “cardo” and “decumanus”, oriented towards the compass points. The numbering and geometrical organisation of roads and streets began here.
In Bergamo, the “compitum” thus became “Gombito”, a dialect definition of Gomito.
A curious fact is that the tower was never called by the name of the family that owned it, as was the case for all the most important buildings in the city.
Since the creation of the “compitum” in Roman “Bergomum” so many centuries ago, the city has grown: the streets are no longer orthogonal, but follow the course of the steep terrain. The original streets have been replaced by more modern ones, and the city profile has changed: few traces of the ancient buildings remain. The Torre del Gombito is still the city icon. Heading east we reach the historic Porta Sant’Agostino, passing through Piazza Mercato delle Scarpe and via Porta Dipinta; to the west stands the old Porta Sant’Alessandro straddling the ancient “decumanus” route. To the north you descend towards Porta San Lorenzo, passing along the street of the same name, while to the south, passing by Via delle Beccherie (the street of the butchers), now known as via Lupo, Vicolo Terzi and via San Lorenzino, you reach Porta San Giacomo and then the Bergamo plain.
The structure of the tower is characteristic of the period, built entirely of stone blocks and towering over the entire city.
For the people of Bergamo at the time it probably symbolised what we now call a skyscraper. Historical records suggest that it was originally 64 metres high, but was partly demolished in the19th century for safety reasons.
In 1206 it was damaged by a major fire following the turmoil caused by the rivalry between the Guelph and Ghibelline families of Suardi and Rivola, and became the property of Bartolomeo Del Zoppo in 1263. Until 1383, it formed a single architectural complex with the adjacent house, with which it communicated through a single access, located eight metres above the ground to the east of the tower; this access has now been walled up, although signs of it can still be seen when climbing the tower.
The Torre del Gombito maintained its defensive function until 1500, when it was transformed into a civil building known as the “Torre dell’hostaria del Gombedo”, as mentioned in a report by the Venetian Captain Da Lezze, dated 1596. In order to make room for a shop, the walls of the ground floor were reduced in thickness (from 2.50 m to the current 1.75 m) and the wall facing Via Gombito was completely demolished, dangerously undermining the foundations and thus the stability of the tower itself. On the upper floor, a warehouse was set up, and a window overlooking Via Gombito was opened, still visible today. In Via Lupo, the corbels protruding at a height of about 6 m from the ground mark a portico that housed another shop.
In 1848, it became a military building once more and served Italian patriots who had risen up against Austrian rule as a vantage point to strike at the fortress. Following this episode and the patriots’ defeat, the Austrian military authorities decided to demolish the internal wooden staircase, thus making the top inaccessible. Donated to the Municipality of Bergamo in 1877, it was restored in the early 20th century. In 1892, following the ongoing crumbling of the stone walls, it was decided to rebuild the wooden staircase, which is still used today. Other works followed until 1998, when the most important restoration work on the tower was carried out by the engineer Verdina and the Spina team of architects. The work included consolidation of the outer stone surface, applying concrete hoops to increase the load-bearing capacity and reinforce the old core, and the insertion of a series of 8-metre-long micro piles to reinforce stability. Subsequently, further works were carried out to enhance the beauty of this ancient tower and to increase its safety. It is interesting to note the particular shape of the internal wooden stairs, rebuilt as they were originally, with the last section providing access to the top of the tower via the steep steps carved into the stone. The top reveals the remains of the original ancient staircase testifying to the tower’s original height of 64 metres.