On occasion, I come across a view so amazing and awe-inspiring that I have trouble believing that it’s real. As if someone had painted what I was seeing on a canvas. That’s how I felt when I first laid eyes on Civita di Bagnoregio. This tiny, and I mean tiny, village is the definition of hill-top, sitting on a hill surrounded on all sides by valleys. This means that it’s somewhat remote but painfully picturesque.
In the depths of winter in January, I had jumped on an early morning bus from Orvieto to head south and see Civita di Bagnoregio on the northern edge of the Lazio region. My decision to head there comes with a small admission: I learned of Civita di Bagnoregio while watching the Amazing Race, a guilty pleasure of mine. I’m pretty sure I’d seen a photo of it also on Instagram, but it was the globetrotting reality series that lodged it firmly on my mind and on my list of places to go.
Anyway, I rode the bus to the nearby commune of Bagnoregio, basically the modern equivalent to Civita di Bagnoregio. See, while Civita di Bagnoregio dates back to the Etruscan period over 2,500 years ago, the town began to fall into decline in the 16th and 17th centuries. When an earthquake hit at the end of the 17th century, most of the population relocated to the Bagnoregio. So when I say Bagnoregio is modern, I mean several hundred years old…. modern for Italy.
From the centre of Bagnoregio it was just a short walk and I found myself at the first of many, many viewpoints looking out to the east towards the historic spot. I’d chosen to visit in the early morning in part because the buses from Orvieto weren’t that frequent but also for the light. It was sure worth it as it seemed to glow with the light from the low sun and there was nary a person in sight.
That the view over to Civita di Bagnoregio was so still is fitting, given that it basically became a ghost town for centuries. After the earthquake, it soon became known as the “The Dying City”, both from people leaving and from the ever-increasing erosion gnawing at the town’s rocky foundations. Thankfully, it has seen a small revival in the last 10 or so years with efforts to preserve this historical gem from ruin. Still, it is said to have fewer than 10 actual residents.
Once I had taken my gazillionth photo from the viewpoint by the Caffe Belvedere, I trotted down the staircase to the road leading to the ticket booth just before the bridge. Entry to the town only costs 1.5€, literally a small price to pay to see the town and help fund its preservation. From there it was up onto the bridge to cross the valley and head up into town. Now I mentioned earlier that it was winter and early morning, so it was about 0ºC and out on the bridge the wind was blowing a gale, so it was probably about -8ºC with windchill factor. Brrr.
Having worked my way up across the bridge of a Thousand Icy Winds (not it’s official, or unofficial, name), I found myself at the town’s main gate. Considering it’s location, having fortifications like this means that Civita di Bagnoregio must have been incredibly secure back in the day. Security isn’t such an issue nowadays however and the gateway was draped in an array of sheets, which I thought was a nice touch.
From there it was into town, wandering along the cold and empty streets. I feel like the weather and absence of people really sold me on the atmosphere of a “dying city” and don’t think I would have had it any other way. The town’s buildings and houses have been kept in the wonderful medieval style that they were built in over 500 years ago, as the Renaissance seemingly failed to make its way up to Civita di Bagnoregio. This means that aside from the odd car or electric cart, you really do feel like you’re stepping back in time.
Eventually I did come across a few locals gardening and setting up, but aside from that, everything everywhere was closed and quiet. I did notice a handful of cafes and restaurants, as well as a few guesthouses and hotels, but I could count on one hand the number of other tourists I saw in town. Considering in 2015 the town saw around 500,000 visitors that’s pretty lucky. An empty town meant that I could take plenty of shots of the town’s street and houses, many covered in creeping vines.
One thing that I hadn’t heard about Civita di Bagnoregio beforehand was the incredible surrounding landscapes you could find there. Looking out eastward from the town you could see fascinating ripples of sandstone ridges that reminded me a little of the Sand Pyramids of Melnik in southern Bulgaria. I haven’t been able to find much info on these unusual geological features but not to worry, they’re still eye-catching regardless.
The town really is quite small and after an hour or so, I had explored every nook and cranny. As I made my way back to the commune of Bagnoregio I passed more and more tourists, so it seems to start getting a busier after 9am. It may not have been a big visit, just a morning in fact, but that’s all you need to see this insanely scenic spot and enjoy the view of Civita di Bagnoregio.
- If taking the bus, buy your ticket in Orvieto from the bar at the train station and in Bagnoregio from the tobacconist just over the road;
- Situated in the Lazio region, it’s also possible to get here from Rome, although you have to take the train to Orvieto first;
- If going in winter, rug up as it can get really cold, especially with the wind;
- Bring your camera, you’re going to need it!
Have you been to, or heard of Civita di Bagnoregio before? Where have you been that has simply left you awestruck? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.
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