Civita di Bagnoregio
The Village. Civita di Bagnoregio is a small, perfectly preserved corner of the Middle Ages and one of the most beautiful villages in Italy. You enter the village from Porta S. Maria, located where the ancient Etruscan arch that provided access to the city once stood. It’s adorned with bas-reliefs from the Middle Ages and an elegant loggia.
Cathedral of San Donato. An ancient cathedral of the diocese until 1695, which, according to an unconfirmed local legend, is said to have been built above pagan temple in the 5th century. Some Romanesque elements can be identified under the heavy 16th-century renovations that gave the church its current appearance. Two Etruscan sarcophagi are incorporated into the base of the bell tower. Inside is a fresco from the Perugino school and an exceptional 15th-century wooden crucifix from the Donatello school.
The Geological and Landslide Museum. Located inside the Renaissance Palazzo Alemanni, it illustrates the geology of the Bagnoregio territory, the stability problems of the cliff, the history of landslides and the stabilization and monitoring works carried out over time to safeguard what has been called “the Dying City”.
Inhabited since Etruscan times, Bagnoregio or Balneum Regis (Bath of the King) was the ancient Bagnorea, an episcopal seat mentioned for the first time in a letter from Pope Gregory the Great to the bishop of Chiusi Ecclesio in 599. According to legend, the waters healed the wounds of King Desiderius, hence the name ‘Bath of Kings’. It became part of the Patrimony of St. Peter and was a fief of the Monaldeschi of Orvieto. In the 12th century, it became an independent municipality, although always under the realm of Orvieto.
Around 1217, it was the birthplace of St. Bonaventure, born Giovanni Fidanza, who, according to legend, was seriously ill as a child. He was blessed by St. Francis and, once healed, decided to embark on a religious life. After studying in the convent of San Francesco at Bagnoregio and then in Paris, Bonaventura became the most important biographer of Saint Francis’ life and was proclaimed a Doctor of the Church.
Bagnorea was seriously affected by the plague of 1348, which left it almost completely depopulated. In 1494, the inhabitants of the town succeeded in destroying the fortress of the Monaldeschi, thus freeing themselves definitively from the dominion of the family. In 1494, they courageously opposed Charles VIII who was descending along the peninsula to occupy Naples. In 1496, Pope Alexander VI (Rodrigo Borgia) imposed a government of cardinals-governors, which lasted until 1612, when the town came under the control of the Apostolic Delegation of Viterbo, which restored the ancient Municipal Statutes to it.
In 1695, a violent earthquake caused a large part of the tuffaceous plateau on which the town stood to collapse, isolating it from the village of Rota, which is now called Bagnoregio, and ushering in the progressive abandonment of what is now called Civita. After the plateau further collapsed in 1764, a state of emergency was declared.
On October 5, 1867, as part of the attempt by the Garibaldini to occupy what remained of the Papal State, an army of volunteers left Orvieto, now Italian territory, to try to occupy Viterbo, passing through Bagnoregio, counting on the local populations to join their cause. This did not happen, but rather the Bagnoresi shouting “Viva Pius IX” (Long Live Pius IX) hindered the advance of the patriotic army, forcing the army to barricade itself in the convent of St. Francis, where it was overpowered by the papal dragons.
In 1922, the ancient name of Bagnoregio was returned to the city of Bagnorea. In 1986, the diocese was retired and united with that of Viterbo.
Today Civita di Bagnoregio has only 16 inhabitants and is joined to the modern Bagnoregio by a reinforced concrete bridge, which replaced the old brick bridge destroyed by the Germans during the Second World War in 1944. It is one of the most visited tourist sites in the area, welcoming 800,000 visitors in 2017.
HOW TO GET HERE (114 km)
Take the Aurelia state road towards Rome. After about 47 km exit at Montalto di Castro, direction Viterbo / Tuscania following the SR312 Castrense. After about 4 km, at the roundabout, take the SP4 for Tuscania. Once in Tuscania, follow the signs for Marta / Lago di Bolsena, following the SP12, until you get onto the SP8 Verentana. Turn right, following the signs for Montefiascone. In Montefiascone, briefly enter via Cassia in the direction of Viterbo and after 200 m turn left onto the SP71 Orvietana. Then follow the signs for Bagnoregio.