SOTTO IL MONTE GIOVANNI XXIII AND THE BERGAMO ISLAND
The municipality of Sotto il Monte Giovanni XXIII is located in an area of the Province of Bergamo known as «Bergamo Island». Such area has the shape of an overturned triangle, with the northern base represented by Mount Canto, while the two sides are represented by the rivers Brembo and Adda, with the first becoming the influent of the second.
«...the island, clearly marked between Adda and Brembo...»
(from a document of the Serenissima, 16th century)
The area stretches on a mostly flat country of alluvial origin, although on the north there are some low hills.
There are 21 municipalities inside the area: Ambivere, Bonate Sopra, Bonate Sotto, Bottanuco, Brembate di Sopra, Brembate, Calusco d'Adda, Capriate San Gervasio, Carvico, Chignolo d'Isola, Filago, Madone, Mapello, Medolago, Ponte San Pietro, Presezzo, Solza, Sotto il Monte Giovanni XXIII, Suisio, Terno d'Isola and Villa d'Adda, totalling over 102 square kilometres and a population of over 90 thousand inhabitants (2001 census), with a population density of 900 inhabitants per square kilometre.
The area of the island had always kept its own specific identity, and all the towns composing it had generally followed the same political destiny.
The first settlements took place in the Roman period, when the conquerors established a territory named "Pagus Fortunensis". At the time the area of the island was affected by substantial commercial and military streams, due to the two communications roads that marked the area: the one between the towns of Bergamo and Milan on the southern side, and the other that connected the regional capital to Como on the northern side.
With the decline of the Roman Empire, the villages of the island were prone to the barbaric raids, which brought years of pillages and terrors to the populations. In the 6th century the political situation settled thanks to the arrival of the Lombards and the Franks. They exploited the increasing value of these territories, also due to the fact that the river Adda was navigable up to the Como Lake, from which the centre of Europe could be reached. The river crossed the above mentioned roads between Bergamo and the cities of Milan and Como, ensuring a great commercial life. In this era the area was placed under the jurisdiction of the parish church of Terno, which was considered the main village of the island. It is precious a written testimony dated back to 774, which certifies the new regulation.
Nevertheless in the late Middle Ages this position geographically and commercially favourable turned to be a deeply destabilizing element, because the various signories wanted to rule and dominate the area: many battles ensued between Guelphs and Ghibellines, and later between the Milan and Venice armies, and these events put the population to test, forcing them to live centuries of poverty, so much that the area was to be renown as "the triangle of hunger".
The description of that era is very clear in a document of the time:
«There is no trading nor goods here, the persons are poor land workers and farm labourer, who cannot harvest enough for their living, and they have no privileges but they support all the heaviness...»
The situation became a little better with the arrival of the Republic of Venice that put the area in its district named Quadra dell'isola with Terno as chief town, although the raids made by mercenaries were not infrequent. The first census of the population was held in the 16th century, totalling 10 thousand people.
«It is named Isola for being surrounded by two bends and divided by Brembo and Adda and by mountains. The mountains are on the north wind side, Brembo is on the east, the angle of Brembate di Sotto in the middle and Adda on the west.» (Giovanni Da Lezze, captain of the Serenissima, 1596)
After the venetians the Cisalpine Republic arrived, immediately replaced by the Austrians, which put the area inside the Kingdom of Lombardy-Venetia, with Chignolo as chief town.
With the Italian Unification came the first and crucial process of industrialization, which enabled an improvement in the conditions of life of the inhabitants. Another census, made in 1861 (the year when the Kingdom of Italy was ratified), saw the increase in population reaching the significant number of 26.519.
The origin of the municipality, called Sotto il Monte ("Under the Mount", in Latin Sub Mons) for its distinguishing trait of being at the foot of Mount Canto, dates back to the 9th century, with the first settlements in Bercio. These territories, placed in a sunny part of the Mount Canto slope, became enfeoffed to the Bishop of Bergamo, who in turn gave them to the Benedictine monks that settled in Fontanella. Founded by Alberto da Prezzate, the Priory of Sant’Egidio deeply characterized the life of the village, starting with the building of such landmarks as the Tower of San Giovanni, located on the top of the mountain. As a result, the village that grew at its foot was thus named "Under the Mount of the Monks", shortened in "Under the mount".
The ancient Tower of San Giovanni, built in the year 964 on the top of the mount, represents one of the most typical and significant monumental buildings of the whole area marked by the rivers Adda and Brembo and by Mount Canto, the so called Bergamo Island.
Sotto il Monte, small unknown town in the Bergamo land, on October 28th, 1958 came to the fore as the native town of Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli, who was elected that day on the St. Peter's chair with the name of Pope John XXIII.
Among the most meaningful gesture of esteem and affection of the citizen of Sotto il Monte, and Italy as a whole, toward Pope Roncalli there is the new denomination of the municipality - which turned from “Sotto il Monte” to “Sotto il Monte Giovanni XXIII” - granted by the President of the Republic Antonio Segni with his decree on November 8th, 1963.