Love letter to Brescia, Italian “Capital of Culture” 2023 and city of heroes.

Many will remember a dark period in spring 2020 when the Ospedale Civile in Brescia — the Brescia City Hospital — repeatedly appeared in the New York Times, often on the paper’s landing page. A Brescian nurse even appeared on the cover of the Times Magazine.

Brescia, a working-class city with Renaissance and ancient Roman origins in the northern Italian region of Lombardy, was among the earliest and hardest hit in the early pandemic. And it’s widely recognized today that it was the first Western city to bear the full weight of the health crisis.

“At one point that spring,” wrote Elisabetta Provoledo for the Times, “Brescia’s hospitals had more coronavirus patients than any other place in Europe.”

Today, I’m happy to report from my own experiences there, Brescia is experiencing a genuine renaissance — a rebirth. Its piazzas are packed with tourists who come to admire the Roman ruins and Longobard works of art and artifacts. And its restaurants, wine bars, beer joints are brimming with exuberant and joyful citizens who rarely remark on those dark times. They do, however, talk proudly and rightly about their resilience and courage in the face of ultimate tragedy.

In 2023, Brescia, together with its sister city Bergamo, also hard hit in the early days of the pandemic, will be the “Italian Capital of Culture.” It’s a program that the Italian government launched in 2014 to highlight the cultural legacies of the nation’s urban centers.

In the words of the organizers,

    The Bergamo Brescia Italian Capital of Culture 2023 project came into being as a sign of hope, pride and renewal. A necessary moment of beauty after the dramatic experience of the pandemic. The strong determination of the mayors of the two municipalities, together with all the institutions of their respective areas, embraced by the rest of the country. A high-profile project that serves to indicate possible answers to the great challenges of our time, which Bergamo and Brescia have identified and developed drawing from a shared cultural vitality. Bergamo Brescia Italian Capital of Culture 2023 bears witness to a possible renaissance through the conscious choice of culture as a central element for civil education, creating skills, employment and social and economic resilience.

My experiences on the ground there in recent months have been wonderful. The sense of freedom and joy there is deliciously palpable.

It’s one of those cities that few Americans visited in the years leading up to 2020 — an undiscovered country, to use a cliché. I can’t recommend it enough to you and I hope you will join me in following along as the Italian nation celebrates this culturally rich landscape and its people.

Thanks for checking it out.

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