Civita di Bagnoregio: the village struggling to live
Only a long footbridge connects Civita di Bagnoregio to the rest of the world.
On a tuff spur, in the heart of Tuscia, between the Tiber valley and Lake Bolsena, one of the most fascinating villages in Lazio, albeit undermined by the erosion of the fragile tuff rock on which it was built.
In the province of Viterbo, from its alleys the eye can reach the spectacular Valley of the Calanques, deep furrows in the ground created over millennia by rainwater erosion.
History of the village and its landslides
At least 2,500 years of history are stratified in this small village: Civita was founded by the Etruscans in the 5th century BC when the settlement was one with today's Bagnoregio, then called Rota. It then became a Roman colony, in the 6th century a Lombard colony, later, incorporated into a fiefdom, and in 1140, a free commune.
In the Renaissance, Civita di Bagnoregio had the upper hand over Rota, experiencing a moment of great development, with the construction of new palaces and the cathedral. From the 15th century to the present, however, the territory of Civita literally thinned out due to no less than 134 landslides documented in manuscripts, chronicles and various other sources.
In 1695, an earthquake caused the entire district of Contrada Carcere, the district that connected it to Bagnoregio, to collapse from the cliff. Other major collapses occurred in 1764 and the following centuries.
Since 1965, Civita di Bagnoregio has only been accessible via a pedestrian viaduct. About ten people currently live there permanently.
The village of Civita
The village is entered through the Porta di Santa Maria gate, known as Porta Cava because it was originally a street cut into the tuff. On either side of the arch are two bas-reliefs commemorating a victorious popular uprising in Civita (1457) against Orvieto’s Monaldeschi family who were oppressing them.
Worth seeing is the beautiful church of San Donato (formerly the Duomo), rebuilt in the 17th century, with interesting works of art including a 15th-century wooden crucifix. Interesting is the Geological and Landslide Museum, inside the 16th-century Palazzo Alemanni, explaining the difficult evolution of the territory, also to better understand Civita’s future. The museum offers guided tours and excursions.
Finally, one of the most venerated places in Bagnoregio is the San Bonaventura Cave, an ancient Etruscan chamber tomb, overlooking the valley, transformed into a chapel in the Middle Ages. According to legend, this is where the miraculous healing of little Giovanni Fidanza took place by St Francis.
The Valley of the Gullies
Civita di Bagnoregio is surrounded by the fairy-tale landscape of the Valle dei Calanchi, geological formations created by erosion, small valleys of clay soil over which rainwater does not penetrate, but slides, removing the surface layers and preventing the growth of vegetation.
The unique landscape of Tuscia's calanchi (gullies) makes it possible to slip into these valleys and observe up close formations that look like castles made of tuff, clay cathedrals with spires and pinnacles. They exist throughout the area known as the “Forre della Teverina” between the municipalities of Bagnoregio, Castiglione in Teverina, Celleno, Civitella d'Agliano, Graffignano and Lubriano.
The events of Civita di Bagnoregio
The beauty and uniqueness of Civita di Bagnoregio lend themselves well to the organisation of special events.
On Good Friday, re-enacting the Passion, the wooden statue of Christ from the church of San Donato is carried in an evocative procession to the cathedral of Bagnoregio.
The first of May is traditionally spent walking through the gullies. On the first Sunday in June and again on the second Sunday in September, the Palio della Tonna, a race of four donkeys ridden bareback by jockeys, is held in the church square.
The patron saint is celebrated on 15 July. In October, the village smells of roasted chestnuts for the chestnut festival.
At Christmas, Civita is lit up with torches in the atmospheric living nativity scene.