Last Updated on December 1, 2023 by Laura Teso
Ten years ago, Matteo and I were travelling around Umbria on a budget, visiting little burgs, stopping in hostels and eating at local sagre. At some point we reached the South Eastern part of the region, which borders to both Tuscany and Lazio. So it happened that we passed the border out of curiosity to see Bolsena Lake. But we never made it to Bolsena. Because at some point we saw a brown sing that said:
CIVITA THE DYING CITY
I looked at him and said: Well, we have to see this. I don’t know what this is but a dying city should be included in our tour. No way that we can proceed without seeing it now.
I knew nothing about this Civita. I had with me only an Umbria region guidebook. But we were in Lazio now. Plus we had no smartphones at that time. So we simply stopped the car and walked following the signs leading to the panoramic terrace.
There are no words to express what I felt when I saw Civita di Bagnoregio. A badlands valley, mainly light brown, with splashes of green. And, at the centre of the scene, an isolated hill, connected to the mainland through a narrow, climbing street. On top of the hill, the loveliest village ever, huddled up to fit in the space it got. From the distance I could spot the entrance door, some houses and the belltower.
Sadly, I couldn’t go visit it. I had a health problem at the time. To reach Civita you have to walk down a staircase, reach the brink of the cliff and there take the pedestrian bridge. Its final stretch is uphill. I couldn’t manage.
But I promised myself to go back one day and visit the village. And so we did… after 10 years. Sadly the weather was quite cloudy so my photos are not worthy of the beauty of the place. Well, now I have an excuse to go back again. If possible, I’d love to sleep one night inside the village and enjoy it thoroughly.
Things to know about Civita the dying city
- Civita is called the dying city because the hill on which it is located is subject of a progressive erosion. It appears that Civita is destined to die. For this reason it was gradually abandoned.
- Its inhabitants are 10 or so.
- It was founded more than 2500 years ago by the Etruscans using the local tufo rock.
- The major Etruscan testimony is the Bucaione (big hole), a tunnel leading from the lowest part of the village to the Calanchi valley, the surrounding area.
- It can be reached only on foot walking on a bridge.
- Only the inhabitants can cross it by scooter or cart on certain times of the day.
- The majority of houses were built during the Middle Ages. A lot of them have an exterior staircase, called profferlo (often adorned with beautiful plants and flower vases).
- Civita was a set for many Italian movies. The most famous, I due colonnelli starring Totò.
What to see in Civita
The center of the city is Piazza San Donato, where you can visit the Cathedral. Honestly, I liked better the small alleys all around. Other interesting landmarks: the city door (the only remained of five), Palazzo Vescovile, the Museum of Geology and Landslides and the remains of Saint Bonaventura house.
Scattered around town you can spot many symbols. Some are religious, some historical and some are vernacular. At the far eastern end of the town, you can visit two gardens: Il giardino di Maria and the Poet’s garden.
The village can be overcrowded on holidays. I visited it during Easter morning. I was lucky to arrive early. We found a parking space with no problem. We could take photos at the panoramic terrace. And we found no queue at the ticket stand, nor on the bridge. And the village was quite empty. But when we left after lunch it was a whole different story. And we saw a huge queue at the ticket stall. Huge.
What I liked the most
- The view of Civita from the terrace in Bagnoregio
- Wandering here and there to take hundreds of pics of the many lovely corners
- Those lovely corners
- The view from Civita of the surrounding Badlands
- The awareness of being in a spectacular, unique place
- The focaccia I had for lunch (see below)
Where to eat
We stopped for a focaccia at L’arco del gusto. It’s a tiny place selling focacce or panini filled at the moment with cold cuts, cheese, veggies and sauces. I had the Civitonica with a local cold cut, pecorino aged in a grotto and truffle sauce. Divine. As a dessert I tried one of their ricotta/gelatos. It is basically local sheep ricotta with a frosting (you can choose among many flavors). I chose pistacchio and it was really good. They only have a couple of places to sit outside the shop. I found the location quite charming.
- Good Friday: procession of the San Donato church crucifix along the burg streets
- First Sunday of June: Saint Patroness, Maria Liberatrice
- First Sunday of June: and second Sunday of September: Palio della Tonna (a race on the back of donkeys). Tonna in local dialect it means round and it refers to the race track.
- Christmas time: Live nativity scene. That must be enchanting in this location!
Things to know before visiting Civita the dying city
- There are some parking lots in Bagnoregio. Some of them are for free (of course the most distant from the town). From there you have to walk.
- There is a entrance fee to cross the bridge (€3-5).
- The final stretch of the pedestrian bridge is a little steep.
- There are public toilets inside the village (€0,50)