Living on the Edge Story, photos and video by Tom Weber
over your shoulder for the better part of two-and-a-half millennium,
waiting for the other shoe to drop, is probably not the best way to
cope with Mother Nature. But, that's exactly what the tiny village of
Civita di Bagnoregio has been doing since the innovative
Etruscans discovered a rocky peak far from the maddening crowd where
only eagles dare and decided to call it home.
Surviving more than 2,500 years of wind and erosion,
this tightly knit community struggles to ward off the "Grim Reaper"
as it sits strikingly atop a pinnacle of brittle volcanic tuff that
overlooks the Tiber River Valley in the province of Viterbo
in the Lazio Region of Central Italy, just 90 mi. northeast
Not surprising, Civita is referred to by Italians as il
paese che muore (the dying town).
Admired for its architecture, Civita is
in constant danger of total collapse as its edges slowly erode and fall
off, leaving the buildings built on the plateau to crumble. Scratching
their heads, geologists have led the way in efforts to shore up the
village with steel rods to prevent further decay.
Of all the Italian hill towns, Civita
is quite impressive on a very small scale and billed as uno dei
borghi piu belli d'Italia (one of the prettiest villages of
Italy). Lesser known than more popular (and safe) medieval hilltop towns
and cities like nearby Orvieto Civita
is one of the finest examples of a true step-back-in-time as the modern
age just looked the other way and simply passed it by.
Its relative isolation has actually helped Civita
survive for as long as it has. Lying off the beaten path has kept the
still-standing structures pretty much intact, but, if left unregulated,
the increase in foot traffic from squads of curious day-trippers
like myself could actually send Civita over the
edge, literally. As a matter of fact, in 2006 the World Monuments
Fund placed the village on its 100 Most Endangered Sites
list, citing the constant threat from erosion and unregulated tourism.
This town on life support owes its unaltered condition
simply to its topography. Because of its precarious situation, Civita,
just like a slow death, has watched its population dwindle down to a
select few: about 12 residents in winter and a "booming" summer
population of just over 100.
Teetering on the brink of extinction from its perch
high above the river valley below, Civita used to be connected
to its bigger and busier sister town of Bagnoregio. That
all changed when the earth bordering the two communities wore away,
leaving a deep, vast canyon to traverse. A footbridge that spans the
great divide is the only reason the "dying city" still has
a pulse. Today, provisions are brought up on foot, scooters, pony tractors,
and even a donkey or two.
Along with its topography, architecture and storybook
charm, Civita is the birthplace of its most famous son,
St. Bonaventure, the 13th century Franciscan friar and noted theologian-philosopher.
His home is long gone eroded away, no doubt but the basic
layout of Civita survives, with a church as its centerpiece
in the small Piazza del Duomo. Ownership of this house
of worship has switched hands over the centuries: an Etruscan temple,
then a Roman temple and, finally, the Catholic Chiesa di San Donato.
Despite the ever-present death knell underneath the
masonry, Civita remains transfixed in several bygone eras.
There are no lists of local events or attractions, organized orientation
tours, museum operating hours or even a billboard to draw attention.
An artist's and photographer's dream come true, the
town is a living snapshot or portrait of the Etruscan, Roman and the
Medieval eras. Each step along the cobblestone paths holds a surprise.
Turn the corner and you're hit by ivy draped walls and
arches; potted flowers dotting balconies, porches and window sills;
and, the ever-changing color of the stone walls and houses as daylight
glides across this nativity scene-like village.
Civita di Bagnoregio, one of Italy's prettiest,
but most fragile, hilltop villages. If not already noted, this "endangered
species" should be placed at the top of your travel bucket list.
But, don't wait too long. The days of il paese che muore
are numbered. It's just a matter of time.
If You Go
To day trip to Civita di Bagnoregio you'll
have to go through its bigger sister town of Bagnoregio.
It's best to park your car in the large lot at the city's entrance or
along the street wherever you can find a spot, and then go on foot or
catch the town's regular navetta (shuttle) to the head
of the footbridge leading up to Civita. The walk will
give you ample time to sample some of Bagnoregio along
There are a four restaurants/trattorias/pizzerias in
Civita catering to tourists, but you can do just as well,
if not better, in Bagnoregio proper and save a few euros
(about $1.30 ea.)
Recommended is Ristorante Il Fumatore
at 5 Piazza Marconi (t. 0791-792642). This is probably the best place
to sample the local cuisine at reasonable prices.
Great house wines of local red and white straight from
the barrel. The antipasti plates are large and filled
with locally made cold cuts and cheeses. If it's cold outside be sure
and order the hearty and filling homemade zuppa di fagioli
(bean soup, with pasta or homemade croutons). And, leave room for dessert
and ask for the "it's to die for" homemade Monte Bianco
Modo Mio (White Mountain my way).
Price per person for first, second, dessert, wine, water
and espresso about 20 euros.
Let Tom know what you think about his traveling adventure.
* * * * *
for Destination Bosnia: Inside Sarajevo's Tunnel of Hope
Spent time in Sarajevo in the fall of 1973 beer was excellent!
* * * *
I must say, you're photographs are always amazing. They are
top notch. You bring so much class to Traveling Boy. It's photographs like yours
that make me want to go out and do my own traveling. Please don't get tired
of sending us your amazing adventures. It's such a delight for the soul.
--- Raoul, Whittier, CA
* * * *
I'm also an American living in Italy. I've read with interest your blog and
articles. I'd like to speak with you regarding residency and citizenship for
Americans in Italy as you do seem to have a great deal of knowledge on all of
these subjects. Would it be possible to give you a call on the phone? If so,
please let me know how to reach you. If not, I can ask my questions via email.
* * * *
Hey Tom Wow! Love those photos they are so super
that they make me A) Want to start eating NOW. B) Go there myself. C) See all
that pristine beauty that looks so restful and peaceful. Great story, superb
--- John, Los Angeles, CA
* * * *
for Destination Southwestern France: Saint-Émilion
Good job, Tom, and timely info. St. Émilion is in the
list of places Jim Hayes and I will visit in September 2014. If we get the chance,
we will exploit your experience to enhance the trip!
--- Bobby Harper, Dameron, MD
* * * *
for Vicenza Walks Monte Berico
I lived in Vicenza for 4 years in the U.S. ARMY from 1963 to
1967. A wonderful place to explore. Palladios works are amazing. Have
been back twice since and find new places to visit. My favorite is MONTE BERICO
where I have some wonderful photos of my family.
--- Dr. Albert Pizzi, Hanover, MA
* * * *
I liked the new TB particularly the Vicenza article that took
me back as a youth when we lived in Naples and travelled up there for a baseball
tourney (U.S. Military Bases dependent schools played each other.)
Took me back to the plaza.
for A Canterbury Trail (Sutri)
Very interesting note. I have wedroned which route the early
pre-Christian and Christian pilgrims travelled to Rome from England. Is it still
possible to travel the Francigena trail?