Just over the border of Tuscany and close to Orvieto in the region of Lazio is the delightful gem of Civita di Bagnoregio. Sitting on a peak in the midst of a vast canyon connected to the town of Bagnoregio by an alluring footbridge on concrete pylons. The old donkey path leading up to the village has eroded away and the ticket office entry already signifies an access into a timeless world.
Even though busloads of tourists have discovered this gem, there is a quiet awe as we make our way closer to the ancient arch entrance where millions have passed through over the centuries.
Only 6 permanent residents enjoy their isolation all year long, keeping company with the tourists who come to stay over. Every corner, laneway, and footpath is a picture postcard. Capers ooze from the medieval walls, basking in the sun together with potted geraniums and creeping ivy that cover many abandoned buildings. Restaurants, deli’s and souvenir shops hide discreetly in every nook and cranny to not disturb the charm, and the locals are proud to talk about the heritage.
Inhabited since Etruscan times the porous rock on which it stands is home to ancient cellars, one now turned into a Museum and used as a bomb shelter during WW11. The main square boasts a lovely church with a simple façade and bell tower now strapped up after the earthquake of October 2016, a place to sit and watch the flow of people traffic. A local confides that the pillars in front are from the ancient Roman temple and that I should come back for the ‘wild donkey race’ which is a great laugh as the stubborn animals often baulk and resist and take their time to complete the piazza circuit.
A Renaissance palace at the entrance is deceiving and needs a second look, as two thirds of the building remain intact while the rest has crumbled away leaving a window and door entrance into nowhere. Landslides remain a constant threat. Some ‘For Sale’ signs are visible while abandoned ruins have been tidied up and enclosed to not diminish the attractiveness of this quaint place. The yellowish brown tufo blocks of the buildings remind me of Pienza since it is made from the same material although it would be half the size of Pienza. A cheeky play on words advertises a local B&B – ‘Libera Mente’ meaning Free your mind or at your own discretion, and with rooms facing the valley that will be assured.
The views of the surrounding clay filled gully seen are breathtaking, with olives, vineyards and Mediterranean bushland clinging to the dramatic slopes. Every corner a photographers dream, when able to ‘photoshop‘ the tourists out!
Still Civita di Bagnoregio feels well-fortified against change, described by a local poet as ‘an island bravely poised in the middle of the air, on the top of a truncated cone above the immense abyss”. How true!