Civita di Bagnoregio is located in Tuscia on the border between Tuscany and Lazio. About a decade ago, no one had heard of this town. It had exactly 11 residents. Why? Well, for starters, Civita di Bagnoregio is crumbling bit by bit into the valley below.
Ok, lets backtrack. The main entrance is a huge stone passageway, cut by the Etruscans 2,500 years ago when Bagnoregio was Bagnorea. The name probably derives from Balneum Regis, referring to the presence of thermal waters with particular therapeutic properties. The town flourished through the Middle Ages and the Renaissance until disaster struck. On 10 June 1695 an earthquake hit Civita, separating it (with the formation of a spectacular cliff) from the other two districts of Mercato (today Mercatello) and Rota.
That earthquake signalled the beginning of a mass exodus from Civita di Bagnoregio. The town was never the same and in the centuries that followed more and more pieces of the cliff eroded away, taking any buildings with them into the abyss.
The precarious setting earned Civita the nickname “The Dying City” or “The City in the Sky”.
Fast forward to today and Civita di Bagnoregio is now one of Tuscia’s and Central Italy’s most popular tourist attractions as thousands of visitors flock to see what’s left of the town.
With so few inhabitants and neither the means nor the desire to modernise, Civita di Bagnoregio has remained preserved in its medieval cloak. The city’s most famous native was the 13th Century philosopher and saint Bonaventure. It is a study in close observation. A gorgeous day trip into what Italy looked like before the tourist attractions and postwar palazzos. A lovely taste of rural life and the hardy and hard working locals who are left holding up the fort.
A couple of years ago, Civita di Bagnoregio decided to charge visitors a small entrance few – €5 on the weekend, €3 on weekdays – to visit the town. The money goes towards preserving the remaining buildings and holding back the tides of erosion.
Civita di Bagnoregio will inevitably disappear when the final pieces crumble into the spectacular Valle dei Calanchi below. Knowing this and knowing that nothing can be done to prevent it makes your visit all the more special and… macabre.
But the town is hardly dead no matter what its nickname suggests. Instead it is a bustling mess of visitors and locals, gossiping nonni and the rare child or two. Its social calendar is filled with fascinating traditional festivals and there are plenty of great restaurants where you can sit and soak up the splendour around you. The views of the valley are breathtaking, but so are the tiny streets and flower-filled piazzas. It’s also been officially declared a “Borgho più bello d’Italia” (One of Italy’s most Beautiful Towns).
An important note, Civita di Bagnoregio can only be reached on foot. Supplies are mopeded in, while the rest of us must walk the rather long and tiring footbridge that connects the town to the parking lot back on the ‘mainland’.