Rick Steves: Civita di Bagnoregio, the dead city of Italy


Until travel to Europe becomes fully open, here is a reminder of the fun that awaits us in Europe.

Of all the Italian hill towns, Civita di Bagnoregio was my favorite. But then he died. During 30 years of visits, I have seen it wither. His young people left, attracted by the glare of the city. His elderly became frail and moved into apartments in the nearby town of Bagnoregio. Today, Civita (nicknamed La città che muore – the dying city) is bought by wealthy Italians from the big cities for their escapades in the countryside. And, just like I had a lemonade stand as a kid, their kids sell bruschetta to a constant stream of amazed tourists.

As I enjoy the perfect panorama of Civita from across the canyon, I become nostalgic, remembering this precious chip of Italy back when it was a traffic-free community with a growing economy in the city. valley.

Civita wobbles atop a pinnacle in a vast canyon dominated by wind and erosion. The saddle that once connected Civita with its larger and more bustling sister city, Bagnoregio, has eroded, replaced by a narrow bridge.

On my first visits, a man with a donkey was carrying the city’s goods along this umbilical cord connecting Civita to the rest of Italy. His son inherited the responsibility, doing the same, using a Vespa rather than a donkey.

Entering the city through a notch in the rock made by the Etruscans 2,500 years ago and heading under a 12th century Romanesque arch, I feel like stepping into history on the smooth cobblestones the size of a hubcap under my feet. It was once the main Etruscan road leading to the Tiber Valley and to Rome, just 90 kilometers to the south, which feels like another world. Those looking for arcade tourism won’t find it here: there are no listings of attractions, orientation tours, or museum opening hours.

Civita’s charms are subtle. It’s just a lovingly made stone shell, the corpse of a city. But it is also an artist’s dream. Each lane and trail has a surprise in store. Warm stone walls glow, and each staircase serves as dessert for a sketchbook or camera. Going down a dead end lane, I come to a surprise viewpoint – and realize the street continued until this part of that hill town collapsed into the valley floor far below.

The ancient city’s basic grid plan survives – but its centerpiece, a holy place of worship, has turned with cultures: first an Etruscan temple, then a Roman temple, and today a church. The rounded tops of the ancient pillars that stand like bar stools in the square once decorated the pre-Christian temple.

I enter the humble church, with a beating heart and the pride of the village for centuries. This is where the festivals and processions started. Sitting for a moment of coolness and calm on a bench, I see faded paintings by students of famous artists, relics of the boy from the hometown of Saint Bonaventure, and dried floral decoration sprawled on the floor.

Just around the corner from the church on the main street is Bruschette con Prodotti Locali, the cool and friendly wine cellar of Rossana and Antonio. I remove a stump and let them serve me panini, bruschetta, chilled white wine, and a cake called ciambella. After eating, I ask to see the cellar with its traditional winemaking equipment and provisions for rolling huge barrels down the stairs. Grabbing the stick, I tap the drums… thimp, thimp, thomp… to measure their fullness.

The ground beneath Civita is honeycombed with old cellars like this (to keep the wine at the same temperature all year round) and cisterns (to collect rainwater, as there was no well. in the city). Many of them date from Etruscan times.

Behind the church, in L’Antico Frantoio Bruschetteria, an olive press – the latest in a 2,000-year-old line of olive presses – fills an ancient Etruscan cave. Brothers Sandro and Felice sell bruschetta to visitors.

The bread is toasted over an open fire, drizzled with the best oil, rubbed with garlic and garnished with chopped tomatoes. These edible memories stay in my breath for hours and in my memory forever.

As I return to my car to enter the modern world, I stop under a lamp on the donkey trail and listen. I listen to the canyon… distant voices… animals in humble farms… fortissimo crickets… the same sounds the villagers heard here when their town was still alive.

This article was adapted from Rick’s new book, For the Love of Europe.

Rick Steves (ricksteves.com) writes European guides, hosts travel shows on public television and radio, and arranges European tours. You can email Rick at [email protected] and follow his blog on Facebook.

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