Civita di Bagnoregio – the dying city clinging to the cliffs

Only 14 permanent residents and brave souls remain in Civita di Bagnoregio. Nicknamed La città che muore, "the dying city", it has been hit by erosion, landslides, and earthquakes over the centuries.


Picolo Editorial

Today, the small village clings to the top of what little remains of the ever-receding cliff, located in Lazio, two hours north of Rome. Civita di Bagnoregio has recently become an adventure destination for many who fear that it will one day be too late to visit.  

"I was born in this house, and lived here with my family until I turned eleven, when we had to move to the other part of Bagnoregio. It had simply become too dangerous to live here," says Franca Artemi.

Moving back to the childhood home

She and her husband Gustavo Coronel are now moving back to the small childhood home, in which they proudly show us around. It has now been refurbished from the foundations and up amid renewed optimism in Civita di Bagnoregio. Franca and Gustavo are now among those with an address in the clifftop town.

We had to move. It had simply become too dangerous to live here...

Gustavo Coronel and Franca Artemi.Picolo

Gustavo Coronel and Franca Artemi.

Moving back to the dying city, Civita di Bagnoregio.

Bagnoregio was once a big city. Now, it is split in two. What little remains of the easternmost part now houses only 14 permanent residents and has been named Civita di Bagnoregio. The westernmost part is less affected and is simply called Bagnoregio, where just over 3,000 people have their address.

Attempts were made to solve the problem of erosion and landslides as early as in Roman times. Later, there was a ban on animal grazing and digging, while in 1765 a planting scheme was implemented around the cliff – all equally in vain.

"When I was a kid, there was no road up to the village. Back then, we had to transport goods to the top using donkeys." She remembers well the time before her family had to leave the village. All the residents often gathered for communal meals or to watch films," Franca tells Picolo.  


The bridge of Civita di Bagnoregio

Tourists have to pay a small fee to cross the bridge over to the village. The money goes to conserving Civita di Bagnoregio, which has flourished over the past decade.

"The whole city was like one big family," Franca says of her childhood home.

She and Gustavo, who is originally from South Africa, were married in the church, which is located in the single big open square in the village, just a few metres from Franca's childhood home.

True hospitality

Today, a modern bridge has been built so that you can get all the way across the gorge between the two cities. The fear of new landslides had a deep impact on the previous generation and led for a long time to depopulation and decay. But there is currently no immediate threat of further landslides. The cliff walls have been reinforced and it has been a long time since the last landslide. Today, none of the fourteen residents are afraid to wake up to new slides.

"It's safe now," say Franca and Gustavo, who are looking forward to living in their newly renovated house.


The gate

Stepping in through the narrow passage that makes up the city's gate is like stepping hundreds of years back in time.

Tourists have to pay a small fee to cross the bridge over to the village. The money goes to conserving Civita di Bagnoregio, which has flourished over the past decade. Today, the city is known far beyond national borders and is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Italy.

"Not too many," says Gustavo, when we ask if tourists are welcome. He is concerned with preserving what is left of the village but is himself the very epitome of hospitable. It is Gustavo who waves us into his house from the third floor, and who willingly shows us all the newly renovated rooms.  

The houses are packed in tightly

Their house is not large. Because up on the small mountain top, the small houses are all crammed in tight. Often only three or four metres wide and three floors in height. Every millimetre of the house is painstakingly furnished to take advantage of the limited space. Knowing that several square kilometres have disappeared and collapsed, it is no wonder that every little vacant spot becomes very valuable.

Read more: Little Jerusalem – the red-hot rocky city in the heart of Tuscany

Stepping in through the narrow passage that makes up the city's gate is like stepping hundreds of years back in time. Here, the atmosphere is calm and devotional, almost sacral and religious. But there is also room for welcoming bars and restaurants here. Cars, on the other hand, have no place in Civita, except for the municipality's small four-wheelers that meander across the bridge and into the narrow streets to carry out necessary maintenance.

Hope has returned

Many have now regained their faith in the future of Civita di Bagnoregio, which has long been on the list of the World Monuments Fund, a foundation that aims to preserve historic sites that are on the verge of disappearing.

But the isolation over the centuries has also brought with it something very nice.

The city is known for having preserved its distinctive architecture and traditions, which is due to the fact that the cliff has been shielded from outside influences for long periods of time. Not least during two world wars that hit the region hard. The largest and westernmost part of Bagnoregio is not as well-preserved as a mediaeval town.

Civita di Bagnoregio was originally established by the Etruscans 2,500 years before the Common Era, and towers high above the Tiber Valley. The Tiber is, as many will know, best known for flowing through Rome, located just 15 miles further south. The landscape around the small rocky town is strongly reminiscent of the well-known Badlands in the United States, with wave-like rock formations.

There have been at least 13 known earthquakes that have contributed to the erosion and landslides. One of the best documented is from 1695, when 32 people lost their lives.


Local restaurant

La Cantina di Arianna, one of the charming local restaurants in Civita di Bagnoregio.

A red hot, holy neighbour

Many combine a visit to Civita di Bagnoregio with a trip to another rocky town. Pitigliano, also called la piccola Gerusalemme, "little Jerusalem", is an hour's drive away, directly to the west. Like Bagnoregio, the town is located on the top of a steep cliff. But unlike Bagnoregio, Pitigliano is built on harder rock and is not affected by erosion or landslides.  Pitigliano is as big as Bagnoregio and has a different but equally exciting story to tell. You can discover why the city is called little Jerusalem and glows red in the sunset here.

How to get to Bagnoregio

Civita di Bagnoregio is far from the nearest major city. The most famous destination nearby is Lake Bolsena, with its crystal-clear waters and small villages. The nearest city is Rome in the south, about two hours away by car. The easiest option is therefore to hire a rental car and drive from Rome. Or from Florence, which is 2 hours and 45 minutes away by car. Note that it can be challenging to find vacant parking spaces in the neighbouring town. However, the last kilometres towards the cliff village of Civita di Bagnoregio make for a very pleasant walk.

Few accommodation options

There are not many accommodation options on the cliff itself. But a few do exist. If you want to wake up with the 14 other residents, you should book a room well in advance. Accommodation options are affordable and relatively basic.

Is Civita di Bagnoregio worth the trip? Definitely!

And even though it's been a long time since the last landslide, you never know how long this unique village will remain.

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