Upon setting foot in a city of medieval origins, the eye is immediately drawn to the ancient palaces that form the boundaries of labyrinthine passages covered in cobblestones. Bergamo Alta, the upper part of Bergamo, is a prime example of this, and one would be forgiven for not noticing the numerous walled-up doors and gateways that hide in plain sight.
In Bergamo Alta, a walled-up door may signify something more. It may be a “porta del morto” (door of the dead), a gateway of varying dimensions that was walled up after the funeral of a person who once lived inside that building. When someone died, a new door was opened for the coffin to leave the house, as it was considered a bad omen for the living and the dead to use the same door. This explanation sits comfortably between religious and superstitious beliefs.
However, there is another, more pragmatic explanation for this practice. It has been suggested that narrow, sharp turns in the corridors and staircases inside the house would have made it impossible for a coffin to get through, and the most obvious solution was to make an opening in the wall. This opening was then walled up as soon as the funeral was over. The co-existence of the spiritual and secular explanations is most likely.
Of course, not all closed-up gateways are doors of the dead, but it is known that several along Via alla Rocca and Via Solata are doors of the dead.
On a side note, the doors of the dead found in Bergamo are not unique in Italy. Similar openings in buildings from this era can be found in the regions of Tuscany and Umbria as well.