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Tom Weber: Civita di Bagnoregio
Living on the Edge
Story, photos and video by Tom Weber

view of Civita di Bagnoregio from afar

ooking 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.

a closer look at Civita di Bagnoregio atop a volcanic tuff

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 of Rome. 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.

the main entryway to Civita di Bagnoregio

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.

a portion of the original wall at Civita di Bagnoregio

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.

Giardino di Maria in Civita di Bagnoregio

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.

the church at the Piazza del Duomo, Civita

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.

the main square at Civita

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.

one of the buildings at Civita

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.

street scene at Civita di Bagnoregio

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.

view of Civita di Bagnoregio from the footbridge linking the village to Bagnoregio town

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

street in Civita di Bagnoregio

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 the way.

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.)

entrance to the Ristorante Il Fumatore

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.

bikes on a street in Civita

Unfortunately, there are no reliable online tourist sites in English for the area, but for complete information, in Italian, logon to:

Buon viaggio!

Related Articles:
Vicenza: The City of Palladio; Basilica Palladiana; Riviera di Ulisse; The Little Village Atop the Hill (Castelluccio di Norcia); Norcia, Umbria; Cape of Circeo, Italy; Piovene Rocchette, Italy; Northern Italy; Lake Como; Tuscany; Rome

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Let Tom know what you think about his traveling adventure.

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Feedback for Destination Bosnia: Inside Sarajevo's Tunnel of Hope

Spent time in Sarajevo in the fall of 1973…beer was excellent!

--- David

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Hi Tom,

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

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Hi Tom:

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.

Thank you!

--- David

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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 pix!!! Bravo!!

--- John, Los Angeles, CA

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Feedback 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

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Feedback 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. Palladio’s 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

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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.

--- Bill

Feedback 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?

--- Pawel

You can find out more info on walking tours of Via Francigena at this site: Thanks for stopping by and commenting..


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Good article, enjoyed reading it. Saved your recommended sights for future use.

--- Dardenne Prairie, MO

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You're going to be great at this Tom. Congrats.

--- Donna Vissa -Montreal

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