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Civita di Bagnoregio, the ghost village

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Situated almost half-way between Orvieto (20 km) and Viterbo (30 km), Civita di Bagnoregio is known as the “dying town” because of the continuous erosion which over the years has reduced the town centre in size and because today Civita di Bagnoregio has only about 10 permanent residents throughout the year. The village is situated on top of a hill made up of a layer of tufa (a soft volcanic stone typical of central Italy) which was formed after a series of volcanic eruptions thousands of years ago. This lovely corner of Italy used to be an active centre until several earthquakes and landslides forced the local inhabitans to abandon the town. From the distance Civita di Bagnoregio seems like a ghost town floating in the air: in fact, it is only connected to the surrounding countryside and to the “New Bagnoregio” by a long foot bridge suspended in the air. There is no post office, no supermarket, no chemist, no hospital and the one school shut down decades ago. All that is left of Civita di Bagnoregio, the Lazio town founded by the Etruscans more than 2,500 years ago, is a cluster of holiday homes, a B&B, restaurants and souvenir shops, all catering to the tourists who come to marvel at and indulge this gem of Italy's past. This village is certainly one of the most fascinating places to visit , first perhaps that some more substantial collapse undermine its stability.

Strolling through the lanes leading from the square is like travelling back in time, in an unreal silence, almost like a gateway to another dimension where we can enjoy pleasant corners with their traces of past ages, with flowers in the windows, and crafty cats dozing. Old medieval palaces, together with Renaissance olive presses and humble peasant homes, look out over the immense surrounding canyons which, with their crests and pinnacles, form a crown around this small town, clinging to life on the fragile clay hill. The village was called Santa Maria in the Middle Ages because of the Church of the same name, also called Porta Cava. Partially cut into the tufa in the Etruscan period, it was completely readapted in the Middle Ages and in the 16th and 17th centuries when it underwent numerous restorations, with the addition of a number of elements which do not fit in as a whole. On the walls we can see graffiti showing crosses on triangles, recalling the cross of Golgotha in Jerusalem, attributed to pilgrims returning from the Holy Land or to the Templars.

The layout is based on the main street running from east to west, and on the square with the Cathedral, probably built in the early 7th century on the area of an ancient temple, and enriched in subsequent centuries by various structure. The church houses a fine 15th century Flemish wooden crucifix which is carried during the suggestive procession of the crucified Christ. One enters the town through the Gate of Santa Maria (dating back from the Middle Ages as well as most of the buildings to be seen around). The charming Church of San Donato, giving onto the main square, the pride of the village, the spot where festivals and processions start, visitors are escorted, and the town's past is honored. Wild donkey races take place here in June and September, and at Christmastime, a living nativity scene is enacted in the square. The few inhabitants take very good care of their houses and streets which are extremely well maintained, clean, flowers everywhere. Only few houses are in very poor conditions with their windows opened wide over the emptiness, their façade with nothing behind them.

Cività di Bagnoregio is not the sort of place with lots of sights and things “to do”. Follow your nose. Get lost. Explore its small streets and just wander. Enjoy the atmosphere and the valley views. Have lunch. You could also visit the Cività di Bagnoregio Geological Museum, to understand how this town, perched atop a crumbling cliff of tufa limestone, can be saved.


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The author

Eleonora Ruzzenenti

Eleonora Ruzzenenti

I am Eleonora, from Italy. I share with you a frenetic passion for travelling and an insatiable curiosity for different cultures. On itinari, you will find my stories about Italy.

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