My Special Places in Italy | Civita di Bagnoregio

View of Civita from across the valley

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.

Civita’s main square

Maria, courtesy of Miriam

Currently there are less than two dozen people living in Civita, 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.

Civita is in the details

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.

Peaking out the window of my room in Civita.

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copyright 2012  Andi Brown, Once in a Lifetime Travel

23 Responses to “My Special Places in Italy | Civita di Bagnoregio

  • My husband and I only spent a few hours in this wonderful little town and both of us fell in love, we even started talking about what we would do for a living after soon rooms for rent signs stuck on windows. Lunch was in a small cantina to the right of the church in the square, one of the most simple, but delicious meals we ate during our time in Italy. It is a truly magical place, thank you for sharing 🙂

  • Veronica Viggiano (Ronnie)
    10 years ago

    We visited here for a few hours on our way to Orvieto and wish we had known about the ancient caves What a treat it would be to see them. The village is wonderful as you describe and although we can’t find a place in Italy that we don’t love, this one is near the top of our favorites list. At the time we visited we were told some wealthy person was trying to buy most of the village and turn it into a tourist destination. I’m so happy to see that it is still the enchanting place we visited. Thank you for reminding us of the special time we spent there.

    • Just helping you find another reason to go back 🙂

      • Veronica Viggiano (Ronnie)
        10 years ago

        Thanks for your help in encouraging another visit to Civita di Bagnoregio!!!! We’ve been to Italy 7 times and every time we get home, I can’t wait to go back. Next time we’ll be sure to see the caves.

  • What a beautiful little town. So sad that it is dying! I have only been to Italy once and have been itching to go back ever since. The food, the history, the people, the food! I’m excited to revisit such an incredible country through your blog.

  • I LOVE Civita di Bagnoregio! It is one of my favorite places to have visited. I sure do wish we had stayed a night as you did…how cool! We went with my oldest two children when they were 3-1/2 and 1. It was early March and NO one was around. I remember my son running around the “piazza” pretending to be a horse in a mini-Palio. And the goats in those caves out the town’s back door! It was such a little glowing gem of a place. I always tell people who are headed in that general part of Italy that they MUST go…and they never do. They are missing out…as well we know 🙂 I am so glad I stopped by here…now I must read a lot more 🙂

    • My daughter was 2 when we stayed there and she did the same thing! I am going to post about the B&B this weekend since readers have been wondering about it. Hope you continue to enjoy the blog 🙂

  • What a beautiful, off-the-beaten path little town! I want to go to it now! I loved the photo of you peeking out that BEAUTIFUL and picturesque window! (-:

  • Thank you! It was a little piece of heaven on earth.

  • I’ve always wanted to go to Italy – if I do, Civita will definitely be on my must-go list!

  • I love Italy. When I still lived in Germany I went there lots, my family had a house a little bit south of Venice. I love the Italian way of life and of course the awesome food. For a high-strung German girl like me this was always a favourite way to unwind.
    Great pictures!

  • Fred Levesque
    10 years ago

    Civita looks awesome. My daughter and I plan to stop on our way to Rome in June of this year. Not sure of the dates, what are the chances of getting a room at the B and B in Civita w/o a reservation? A bite to eat at Trattoria Antico Forno also looks like a must.

    • No problem eating at the trattoria but you should give him a call or email a few days before to stay with him. He only has the three rooms but you should be able to get in unless its the weekend. Let me know if you need any help!

  • Heather
    9 years ago

    I’m heading there in a few weeks and spending three wonderful nights in Civita. I cannot wait!

  • Hi there, nice post! We went to Civita di Bagnoregio over Christmas and had a great time! I particularly liked your point about not sprinting across the town. It’s a lovely place, and deserves a little time. We were there for a few hours, and did everything we could, taking in the views, talking to the locals (and the many cats). We had a great meal there too, in a little place near the main square called Osteria del forno agnese (I think!) I’m sure we’ll be back there soon!! I won’t include a link to our blog, but we wrote a post about our trip so do pop over to take a look 🙂

  • My husband and I were there in October, stayed 2 nights, so thoroughly explored it all. So wonderful and loved reliving it through your writing. Thank you!

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