Located on a hill near the base of the Alps, Bergamo was founded by the Celts who called it Bergheim, meaning "hill town". Roman, Lombard and the medieval times passed to comparative calm to that of its Lombard neighbors. Bergamo was ruled form the Visconti of Milan until 1428. They built the Rocca that crowns the highest point of the hill of the ancient citta' alta.
Along with Brescia and the Lakes Garda and Iseo were ruled usually with a light hand by Venice from 1428 to 1797. The rule of Venice is noted in the Venetian symbol of the lion of St. Mark's carved into buildings throughout the city and the graceful Venetian style of much of the architecture. As the population grew, the lower city, the citta' bassa began in the 16th century. A funicular was completed in 1887 that makes the journey up the steep hill to the citta' alta much easier. The heart of the lower city, which is just north of the train and bus stations, was designed in the 1920s. It includes wide tree-lined boulevards, the Sentierone or "Big Path" the 18th century opera house named after the hometown composer Donizetti, the older church of San Bartolomeo, and actually an attractive belltower from the early 20th century.