Founded in 1917 as the "Civic Museum of the Risorgimento", the city Museum opened at a very critical time, both in military and social terms due to the continuation of World War I, openlt declaring its goal, at the educational level, to "create even in younger generations the idea of Country ".
In terms of the objectives and the spirit of the exhibitory layout, Bergamo’s Museum was connected with the civic museums of the Risorgimento that sprang up in Italy in the last decade of the nineteenth century, whose didactic goal was also clear: the Risorgimento as an exemplum, as a catharsis of an entire people, in which one could combine feeling Italian with the nation and the state, these last two elements being considered as supreme ends and absolute entities free from any ideological constraint. In addition, especially after the consequences of 1849, war and the uprisings took on the ethical-moral value of undisputed elements that “lifted the Country”, understood to be purifying methods for the many betrayals carried out by kings, emperors and popes to the detriment of national unity.
It is clear, then, how in all the museums of the Risorgimento the exhibit was organized through a hierarchy that placed at the top not so much the wars of independence as the uprisings, the battles fought by the volunteers, the victories of the Hunters of the Alps rather than the victories of the army under the strict command of the Savoia and, finally, the epic of the Thousand and of their duce rather that the third war of independence. Specifically, the expedition to Sicily became a paradigm of the entire Italian people, of the war no longer intended as a confrontation between two armies but – as the Genoese garibaldino Bandi recalls in his memoirs - "a huge madness... afterwards judged to be a remarkable deed, the most important one of all his most wonderful deeds".
The epic of the Thousand was represented by means of symbolic abstractions with strong connotation, and was passed on not only through the official iconography (Garibaldi riding a horse, the storming of Palermo and so on), but also through the popular myth (the red shirts, certificates and diplomas attesting one’s participation in the Expedition, etc.). So within the span of three months, a large quantity of material arrived at the soon-to-be opened Museum of Bergamo: in some cases individual pieces (a red shirt, a military certificate, a medal of the thousand), in others bona fide relics with a strong symbolic and emotional charge (see for example "the piece of bread donated to Frizzoni by a Croatian", the skull of the Milanese seamstress, Garibaldi’s lock of hair, the ground trampled on by the Duce of the Thousand, the piece of flag snatched from the Austrians,…). These last items especially acquired a central significance when setting up the Museum, both in 1917 and in 1959, as examples of heroism, extreme sacrifice, pain and joy of an entire people.
The renovation of the city Museum in 1959 did not depart from the themes of its foundation. The section dedicated to the Resistance was added (oddly enough, the historical period related to fascism and World War II was still missing), the latter seen as the “third Risorgimento" (the actual Risorgimento, World War I, the Resistance), the Italian people’s ultimate redemption from German domination. In 1995, after being closed for twenty years, the museum reopened as the “Historical Museum of the City of Bergamo”, with a temporary set up until 7 May 2004.