Preserving Italy’s Civita di Bagnoregio

06
Sep 2015

CIVITA DI BAGNOREGIO, THE TOWN THAT IS DYING

I’ve done it before; sought out a place that has captivated me by a photo. When I first came across the ethereal landscape of Civita di Bagnoregio, I thought it could not possibly be part of the modern world. This must be a photo from times gone by, or perhaps the set of a movie. Further research illuminated the facts about this hilltop city which was built by the Etruscans 2500 years ago.

The photo that seduced my travel plans.

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A LITTLE BIT OF HISTORY…

Civita di Bagnoregio was built on top of the very soft rock on a tufa hill because of its strategic defensive position. Tufa is a volcanic rock that distinguishes much of the natural landscape in this area of central Italy. Like Orvieto, the town sits upon extensive networks of tunnels and chambers, further weakening the infrastructure of its architecture. Several strong earthquakes have destroyed parts of the area and sent buildings down the cliffs of the city. Erosion dramatically threatens the rock on which it is built. In addition, most of the younger population has moved away for bigger opportunities.  The traditional agrarian lifestyle is a thing of the past and uncontrolled tourism has dramatically changed the culture and social network of Civita di Bagnoreigo. Today, the town has less than 20 residents, but over 3,000 tourists a weekend day at the height of the season. Despite efforts to preserve the town over the years, the constant threat to the eroding land and culture placed it in 2006 on the World Momumenet’s Fund Watch List of 100 Most Endangered Sites. A sustainable tourism and conservation plan were necessary if the country was to preserve the heritage of Civita di Bagnoregio.

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preserving the heritage of civita di bagnoregio

Steel rods have been used to reinforce the plateau and try and prevent further geological damage. Civita has only recently been experiencing a tourist revival, and has become a weekend getaway for wealthy urbanites, who are slowly buying and restoring many of the buildings that are admired for their architecture spanning several hundred years. Much of its unaltered condition is due to the relative isolation; the town was able to withstand most intrusions of modernity as well as the destruction brought by two wars.

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You’ll find cats to be the fastest portion of the expanding population. They are everywhere. Keep your eye out for the 1,500 year old olive press in one of the restaurants; you can almost imagine the blindfolded harnessed donkeys circling to crush the olives. Make sure to have some bruschetta-bread toasted in the fire, rubbed with garlic and drizzled with local olive oil and tomatoes. It will be one of your takeaways from Italy that no doubt you will try to duplicate at home and never quite get the same taste. That’s the beauty of travel, a feast for all your senses. civita-italy-walkway-hillside-town

The concrete footbridge takes about 10 minutes to cross. Living in Civita is like living on an island. Supplies have to be brought in by moped, and you want to make sure you are organized when you go out to market. Locals love to talk about their experience there and are happy to share tips and suggestions about the area. Take some time to admire the stunning views over the Valle Dei Calanchi surrounding Civita di Bagnoregio.

The views of the surrounding hillside towns.

We were starving when we first arrived, and had a delicious meal before crossing the bridge to the town. A simple menu with fresh, eco-friendly ingredients like so many of the small spots we discovered in Italy.

Pesto with fresh pasta Italian style.

Should you decide to spend the night, I would recommend the Corte della Maesta, a beautiful, luxury hotel where you will be quite happy.

civica-corte-della-maesta-living Luxury Hotel Corte della Maesta in Italy

On your next trip to the central region of Italy, urge you to visit Civita di Bagnoregio which relies on tourism to preserve its heritage and culture. This magical little place can remain sustainable if travelers support its struggle to maintain the infrastructure and local economy. Be respectful of its delicate nature and enjoy a taste of the past in this unique hidden hilltop destination.

The 411 on Civita di Bagnoregio

  • The city is an easy day trip from any number of home bases. 1 1/2 hrs from Rome,  2 hrs from Florence to Orvieto and about 1 hour from Orvieto to Civita.  and about the same from Florence. We drove from Orvieto, where you can also take public transportation in the form of a bus.
  • You can park in a lot close to the walking bridge. We were there off season, so doing so was easy.
  • If you are going to be there in the evening, I would strongly recommend spending the night. The roads are twisted and not well lit. I would imagine it’s pretty special at night.
  • There are several cafes and restaurants available.
  • You must walk a fairly steep hill to get to the city, wheelchairs would be tricky with the slope and the cobblestones.

Photos of the hotel via their web site.

  1. Morgan says:

    Wow! What an amazing place! Great memories ❤️

  2. Beautiful! This is like something from a dream. It’s hard to imagine a place with far more tourists than locals. Definitely worth a visit while it is still in this condition!

  3. Civita di Bagnoregio looks fascinating. I love that you visited based on being captivated by a photo. And now your photos will captivate others to visit. It’s hard to imagine a town of 20 dealing with 3,000 tourists on a weekend day.

  4. Especially love the first photo with the hilltop city shrouded in mist! How different that would be to live in Civita di Bagnoregio, so completely physically cut off from the world (except for that footbridge) – that’s probably why there are so few full-time residents! You make us want to visit!

  5. noel says:

    It was very sleepy over 15 years ago when I last visited, but I think tourism keeps it alive and well especially those lovely repeat episodes from Rick Steve’s travel – I would like to visit again to see any of the changes or see if it is still the same.

    • alison says:

      Rick Steve had quite a few pieces of advice we followed on this trip. He manages to get off the beaten path often and really discover spots that are outside of the tour books. You’re the only other person I know who has been there.

  6. I can see, taste, smell and feel it! Love your Civita di Bagnoregio story & the “underdog” …can you say that about a place? 😏

  7. Gorgeous pictures of Civita di Bagnoregio. I would love to visit that area.

  8. Oh my, this would be a dreamy, other-worldly stay. I would really enjoy the walk across the footbridge. Something about the transition there is so appealing.

    • alison says:

      I agree about the transition, it’s nice to be able to think about time past by while traveling up the footbridge and reaching this medieval town Betsy.

  9. We were here last March! It was one of the highlights of our one-week stay in Italy. I am happy you found it, too! One of a kind, other-worldly, fascinating!

  10. We were just here a week ago but never made it across the bridge because of the oppressive heat! We were so disappointed~

    Our tour guide, who lives in Bagnoreggio, said that there are now only 6 full-time inhabitants in Civita.

    Great post and photos! I need to go back.

  11. I would love to spend a day and night in Civita di Bagnoregio! I can’t imagine, though, how 20 people can cater to 3,000 tourists each day. Maybe they need to sell timed tickets.

  12. I would love to go to Civita di Bagnoregio but during the week when those 3,000 tourists aren’t there! It looks absolutely lovely – hope it can be preserved without losing its character.

  13. Gorgeous – what incredible geography and what hard work to look after it. I love magical places like this, I agree – I want to see places before they get on everyones hit lists. I have pinned that hotel – I would be just fine there!

  14. Erin says:

    I can’t believe I’ve never even heard of it the many times Ive been to Italy. Adding it for next time – it’s simply stunning.

  15. This reminds me of another hilltop dream town, Calcata, near Rome, which was suffering the same fate until creatives moved in and began restoring it. I will DEFINITELY check this place out next trip to Italy!!!

  16. evelyn says:

    Going there in 2 weeks by way of Orvieto. Stumbled on your post and beautiful pictures and now can’t wait to experience myself. Will post any new insights when I return.

    (P.S. Hi, Alison – it’s been a long while since our college days.)

    • alison says:

      How great to see you here Evelyn! Yes it’s been a while. You will love both Orvieto and Civita. I will email you some of my favorite spots. There was a wine tour that you must try to take! Have a great time and let me know when you return about how much you loved Italy!

      • Evelyn says:

        Civita was magical last week – perfect weather and not too crowded. All the hill towns have their unique character and are worth a visit to imagine old/new lifestyles. We experienced Orvieto, Volterra, Sienna, Lucca, San Giamignano, Chianti highway all brimming with pride. And simple, locally sourced, delicious meals were everywhere.

        • alison says:

          Wow, Evelyn! Sounds like you had quite a trip! I’m so glad Civita lived up to the way I described it. Would love to catch up in person one of these days!

  17. You said the town was dying but your narration is very alive, arousing me the feeling of visiting Rome. I will visit this in the trip to Italy. Thanks

  18. kami says:

    what an incredible place!! I’ve never heard of Civita di Bagnoregio before but now I totally want to go! And I will, eventually! Thank you for introducing this place to me!

  19. Vedante says:

    I can see from the photos that this place has the real ‘Italian feel’. I would definitely visit this place someday!

  20. Michelle says:

    I went there in 2006 and it was indeed a very sleepy town. I’m glad to see it alive and still I don’t know if thriving is a good word, but sustaining.

  21. Civita di Bagnoregio really does look like a movie set. Beautiful!

  22. What a wonderful find! Sounds a very special place. I’d certainly love to visit or better still spend the night and the hotel you recoemmend looks most inviting.

  23. Fascinating story. Just the kind of place I’d love to visit.

  24. Yup just added to my bucket list!