The most photographed town in Lazio (outside of Rome, of course). The dying town. The fairytale Italian hilltop town. Civita di Bagnoregio. Fantasy land Lazio. It had been on our 'hit-list' for a while and as soon as friends suggested a trip out, we jumped at the chance to exploring this fascinating town.
Civita di Bagnoregio is in the province of Viterbo, about 145km north of Rome, near the border with Umbria and Tuscany. It is the classic Italian hilltop town. 'Civita' was founded by the Etruscans over 2,500 years ago. Over the years, thanks to the erosion of the saddle connecting the volcanic tuff of Civita to the surrounding land, its population has dwindled down to only 15 or so full-time residents, as the younger locals make the move to nearby Bagnoregio or to Rome. This has given Civita di Bagnoregio the moniker of 'il paese che muore', the dying town.
However, while Civita di Bagnoregio may be dying, it isn't dead. Thanks to its fairytale good looks and its position between Rome and Tuscany, it's experiencing something of a tourist revival. Indeed, despite the distance from Rome, Civita di Bagnoregio is a tourist Mecca. Even on St. Stefano (Boxing day), when we visited, there were busloads of tourists. Thankfully however, the long walk up the wheelchair friendly bridge tends to separate people out, so it didn't feel overcrowded.
Once you've made it up the vertiginous ramp to the town itself, you're met by a 12th Century Romanesque arch. Walking through the arch is like stepping back in time. After a short street, the cobbled road opens out to the main piazza. Like any Italian town, this is the hub of community life. When we were there they were preparing for the presepe vivente, the live nativity, complete with real farm animals. Amusingly, they were bringing these across to Civita on the back of an ape up the 'pedestrian' bridge. We didn't stick around for the presepe, as it was an evening affair. It looked a pretty big event though, and complete with a little homemade food and wine, cost 5euro per person. The piazza is also the site of Donkey races on the first Sunday in June (Corpus Domini) and the second Sunday of September.
One side of the piazza is dominated by the Chiesa di San Donato. The church, built in the 13th Century on the site of an Etruscan temple is well-kept and worth a visit. From here, it's worth exploring every little street. Many appear deserted, but there are still a few shops here and there, selling local pottery, olive oil, salumi and pasta, as well as a few museums. Thanks to it's isolation, Civita di Bagnoregio has avoided the Renaissance, giving it a truly medieval feel. Plus of course, many of the streets will suddenly stop with a low wall, a 200ft drop, and a stunning view.
At the far end of the town, the main street begins to wind downhill. A little down the street, there are some small Etruscan caves on the right hand side. One houses a chapel, the Cappella del Carcere (chapel of the incarcerated), complete with a small altar. This side of town also has amazing views of the surrounding countryside (despite the poor weather on the day).
After all this walking around, you may well be hungry! Well, thankfully, Civita di Bagnoregio has a few places to eat. We looked around a few, but they seemed a little touristy. We ended up in a lovely spot called Osteria al forno di Agnese, on via S. Maria del Cassero. All four of us had antipasti platters, which were filled with various meats and cheeses. The perfect way to end the day.
How to get there:
The most convenient way to reach Civita di Bagnoregio is by car. Even then, the road signs aren't great and often we were driving seemingly in the middle of nowhere, with no road signs whatsoever, until we were right upon Civita itself. Tip: take a GPS/SatNav. We definitely needed ours, even though the friends we were with had been there before! (See our post about using a SatNav in Italy for more information). I believe there is also a bus to Civita from Orvieto, although I don't know, other than with an organised tour, if there is any public transport from Rome to Civita di Bagnoregio.
Nearby Civita di Bagnoregio: Orvieto
Similar to Civita di Bagnoregio: Calcata