Regally perched high atop a hill of tufa is the magical but dying town of Civita di Bagnoregio. This tiny village near Orvieto in Umbria has everything one could hope for when exploring the Italian countryside. Civita is quaint, so perfect you might wonder if you have stumbled upon a movie set and not a real village. Civita has views, breath-taking panoramic views from all sides that any photographer would drop dead for. Civita has history, a story with every step and in every stone.
History is evident in the layers here. Its origins are Etruscan and date back over 2500 years. Civita had a prime location because it was situated along a major trade route to Rome and the town remained an important stop even as the Etruscan power gave way to the growing Roman Empire. The town continued to build upon itself over the centuries. Many of the existing structures were built during the Renaissance time period upon existing Roman walls whose foundations were Etruscan. A classic example is the cathedral on the square. It is located on the site of a Roman temple which was built over the original Etruscan temple. From pagan to Christian over the course of thousands of years. Looking at the buildings circling the piazza, you can see where the stones of one age end and another begin.
Currently there are less than two dozen people living there, none of them original residents of the village. Little Maria was the last of the living inhabitants that was born and raised within the walls, but she has sadly moved elsewhere because of her ailing health. Many of you might remember her as the old woman who would wave passersby into her garden for sweeping views of the valley. Now her gates are locked and her smile just a memory. But while people and places seem to be in constant flux, Civita itself is timeless.
Climb up the deceiving steep cement bridge put in place after earthquakes and bombings destroyed the natural land connection. Pass through the impressive stone gate carved by the Etruscans 2500 years ago. Wander down the main street, ducking in to see the 2000 year old press along with all the little nooks and crannies. Continue to follow the path as it takes you outside the back of the village and further down to the ancient caves that have been used for everything from storage of food and animals to shelter from the bombings during the war. Creep up the dirt trail and peer into the dark Chapel of the Incarcerated, thought to originally be an Etruscan tomb turned jail and currently now a chapel. When you make your way back to the village be sure to step into the cathedral on the main square. There is a fresco on the left called the Madonna of the Earthquake, named after the shaking that broke loose a layer of white wash that had kept it hidden for years. There is a wooden crucifix over the altar from the School of Donatello that has been a source of pride for the little community.
When visiting tiny Civita, a person could sprint across its entirety without so much as breaking a sweat. In fact, many do. Most come during the day spending less than an hour wandering around, missing much of the subtle hidden beauty and altogether ignoring the trail that takes you out the back of the village to the treasures below. Some tourists do feel the pull of Civita and find themselves lingering over bruschetta or even a meal. Rarely, a few choose to spend the night.
I was fortunate to be one of those visitors. There is a stillness that settles over Civita as the evening turns to night. A quiet calm feeling, like taking off your shoes and digging your toes into the sands of history. I could imagine what this place must have been like in her peak before earthquakes and time had reduced the population from thousands to a handful. As the time got late, the tourists disappeared and the few residents slowly left the main square for their own beds. I had a hard time sleeping that night, the silence roaring in my ears and thoughts of all those here before me dancing in my mind.
Featured writer: Andi Brown