Preserving Italy’s Civita di Bagnoregio
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Should you decide to spend the night, I would recommend the Corte della Maesta, a beautiful, luxury hotel where you will be quite happy.
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.