The Cultural Landscape of Civita di Bagnoregio
The Cultural Landscape of Civita di Bagnoregio is part of the Tentative list of Italy in order to qualify for inclusion in the World Heritage List.
The Cultural Landscape of Civita di Bagnoregio is an example of an ancient village founded in a precarious location, atop a high tuff peak on the border of the ancient Volsini volcano. Originally settled by the Etruscans or Villanovians over 2500 years ago, the village largely dates to the medieval period. Set in a fragile and unstable environment, there is clear evidence of the natural degradation of the cliff over the centuries and human attempts to halt it.
Map of The Cultural Landscape of Civita di BagnoregioLoad map
The coordinates shown for all tentative sites were produced as a community effort. They are not official and may change on inscription.
March 2023 - Bagnoregio was on our way south. Not only a promising tentative site but also nominated for this year, we definitely put it on our itinerary. We arrived in the evening and parked our camper on the Public parking lot. Next morning before the tourist masses would appear we walked our way to the Bridge, had the best Cappuccino of the whole trip in a random Café on the main street to Civita.
Already in the morning we had to pay 5€ to climb up the steep bridge to the towns entrance. The town was completely deserted at first, except for a few cats enjoying the sunshine. The Restaurants and souvenir Shops were still to be opened. We enjoyed the scenery visible from the few viewpoints, which is part of the nomination, as well as the many planters embellishing the facades.
There is many more of such wonderful villages. But taking into account the beautiful surrounding, it would not be mistaken on the WHS list.
We were fortunate to take the morning bus from Viterbo to Bagnoregio, as the landscape was still blanketed in slight fog, adding a mythical feel to the stunning view of Civita di Bagnoregio from the viewpoint. Also, we managed to arrive before the big tour groups from Rome that would later crowd the town.
After taking plenty of pictures, we climbed the walkway, paying the 5 EUR entrance fee to support the preservation efforts of the crumbling hill. Although I would have preferred a proper ticket instead of a thermoprinted one, it was a small price to pay.
The town itself was rather compact, and we explored the alleys, took pictures from the walls overlooking the volcanic landscape, had some ice cream, and returned to Bagnoregio. On our way back, we noticed the increasing crowds of tourists arriving, making us grateful for our earlier arrival. I should note that my travel companion struggled with the climb up to the town due to a fear of heights, but we managed to get up and down.
Before I present my case against inscribing Civita di Bagnoregio as a World Heritage site, I want to acknowledge that its stunning scenery and popularity with international tourists make it highly likely to be inscribed. So, please don't change your travel plans based on my argument.
That said, I have two concerns about the site's Outstanding Universal Value (OUV), which should be considered when evaluating its candidacy. If these criteria were applied, Civita di Bagnoregio would probably be rejected.
Firstly, a World Heritage site should offer more than just a single viewpoint. It should have depth and complexity, providing visitors with something to explore and discover. Unfortunately, Civita di Bagnoregio doesn't fulfill this criterion. A visit to the town takes less than an hour (being a bit more generous than Els), and there is little to see or do beyond taking in the stunning view and walking up and down the single road in town.
Secondly, I don't see how Civita di Bagnoregio fills any significant gap in the World Heritage List. Italy has numerous beautiful medieval hilltop towns, some of which are already World Heritage sites (such as Pienza and Assisi) or tentative sites (such as Orvieto and Otranto), or simply some of the prettiest towns in Italy (such as Locorotondo and Montepulciano). Nearby Orvieto shares the same Etruscan past but has more tangible remains and a true highlight in the duomo. Supposedly, Volterra in Tuscany has even more Etruscan sites to appreciate.
In conclusion, while Civita di Bagnoregio is undeniably a beautiful and unique town, I believe that its OUV is questionable, and it does not offer enough depth or fill a significant gap in the World Heritage List.
To reach Civita di Bagnoregio by bus, you have two options:
- From Viterbo: The Viterbo Porta Fiorentina station has several bus stops, so finding the right one can be a challenge. Look for stop #f783 on Google Maps, which is located across the tracks behind the station on Via Francesco Baracca. It's recommended to arrive early so you have enough time to locate the bus stop.
- From Orvieto: Take a train to Orvieto and then connect to a bus, as Els did. This is the most convenient option. At least, if the connection works out.
Both bus connections are operated by Cotral, but it's important to note that Cotral can be chaotic. Double-check schedules and arrive early just in case, and buy your bus tickets through the Cotral app.
Once you arrive in Bagnoregio, there is only one stop on the main road. Bagnoregio is the modern town, and you can either walk or take a shuttle bus to Civita di Bagnoregio. While Bagnoregio is generally enjoyable, the traffic can be quite heavy as most visitors arriving by car will pass through the town on the one road to reach the parking lot at the viewpoint.
One last piece of advice: Big tour groups often visit Civita di Bagnoregio as a day trip from Rome, so if possible, try to arrive early by staying in Viterbo or Orvieto and catching the first bus.
While You Are There
We thoroughly enjoyed Viterbo, which is part of the Via Francigena tentative site. After arriving from crowded Rome, Viterbo felt like a much-needed respite.
East of Viterbo, you can find two papal villas. Sacro Bosco is a stunning but expensive visit, while glimpses of Villa Lanza from the bus window looked enticing. Unfortunately, it was closed during our visit and we had some hiccups with Cotral, so we decided to have Aperitivo in Viterbo instead.
Orvieto is also a tentative site and, as mentioned earlier, another fortified, medieval hilltown with Etruscan roots. The duomo is a must-see highlight.
I visited this tWHS by car in 2022. The best light within the Civita is in the morning just after the morning dew and mist, while the best views from any viewpoint opposite the Civita are definitely in the afternoon with the sun shining from behind you. Parking near the small village before the parking proper is free while the parking lot (which looked quite unsafe when I visited since what looks like a large modern visitor centre is still under construction) costs 5 euro for a day ticket. You'll also have to pay a further 5 euros to cross the modern bridge and visit the Civita proper which further underlines the fact that the Civita is a "dying museum town".
The heart of the Civita is Piazza San Donato with the Church and Belfry dedicated to San Donato and a permeating smell of lavander from the local craft shops. It really looks like a typical Medieval film set with many rustic Medieval town houses, small pretty gardens, intricate Medieval porticoes and archways with Renaissance friezes, external stairways, and a few Etruscan, Roman and Longobard remains displayed in different small artisans' shops, restaurants and museums. There are a couple of worthwhile viewpoints of the surrounding environment and it is especially worth viewing the nearby sea of calanques which are quite similar to the Crete Senesi in Tuscany. After visiting the main church's interior to appreciate its frescoes, and after exploring most if not all of the small streets and alleys, I headed past the quaint Giardino del Poeta (Poet's garden) and downwards to the Etruscan Cave converted into the Roman Catholic Chapel of La Madonna del Carcere. Apart from the 17th century earthquake, the constantly eroding tuff core of the Civita lead locals to discourage visits inside the chapel (in fact it is sealed behind steel bars) as well as through the long "tunnel" dug through the Civita's entire width and which is technically part of the Via Romea. Since it was still early to enjoy lunch (I can surely recommend eating at Osteria Al Forno di Agnese) and kill time before the better afternoon light, I decided to risk it and ignored the signs of the crumbling environs. If some safety precautions are taken, this would be a really lovely alternative way to hike towards Bagnoregio avoiding the modern bridge (and currently also the 5 euro fee). It would involve a much steeper hike than the bridge though so I don't think this will be happening any time soon.
When my Art History friends decided to have our annual get-together in Rome, I immediately extended the trip with a day to include Civita di Bagnoregio. This was supposed to be Italy’s nomination candidate for 2022 (now postponed to 2023). I stayed overnight in the core zone, a spooky experience as the place gets deserted at night. I arrived at the footbridge only at 7.30 pm; most of the approach was barely lit and neither was the village as only 16 people permanently live there. No restaurants are open in the evenings (at least not in October) and the owners of my B&B had left me the key at a hiding place.
Still, the people at the ticketing kiosk collecting the 5 EUR entrance fee to the village were at their post in the evening. The introduction of this fee for the 1 million yearly tourists has been a blessing for both Civita’s and Bagnoregio’s inhabitants, as communal taxes have been abolished for them since.
I explored Civita the next morning - it takes half an hour at most. There is one main street, which you can follow further down a bit towards a cave. The cave was used for burials by the Etruscans, but after the large earthquake of 1695, it was turned into a Roman Catholic chapel. The views from the village towards the surrounding landscape are quite picturesque, but overall I found the town more suitable for a ‘’Most Beautiful villages” award than WH status. Storywise the most similar WHS would be Matera, which I found much more spectacular in both its setting and history.
The classic photos of Civita, almost floating in the landscape, can be taken from the Belvedere viewpoint, which lies in the neighbouring town of Bagnoregio about 500m from the bridge. The town of Lubriano also has a good viewpoint: from there you can photograph the village from the side. All closer points will have the modern bridge prominently in view, and, honestly, the bridge isn’t that pretty.
In Bagnoregio, the Cathedral and the stretch of road leading towards Civita (including the bridge) will also be part of the nomination. The Cathedral supposedly has good frescoes, but I found it closed both in the evening and in the morning when I walked by.
Getting to Civita di Bagnoregio on public transport is quite a hassle, and when it gets inscribed a connection to the Rome hotspot is doubtable. The total net time needed is 2 hours and 40 minutes (1.5h train, 35 mins bus, 35 mins walking), but it takes a lot more when trains get delayed and you have to wait for one of the few Cotral buses that make the trip to Bagnoregio daily. My train from Rome Tiburtina to Orvieto had a delay of over an hour and I had to wait for the last bus of the day that leaves at 6.35 pm. Also, be aware that buses may leave early or just when the clock turns to the scheduled departure time. Tickets (also for the return) can be bought at the BON Italy coffee bar at Orvieto Scalo’s train station.
Read more from Els Slots here.
The Civita (old settlement core) of Bagnoregio is a small village built on top of a tuff peak that is slowly crumbling away, nicknaming it “the dying city”. The town can be reached on rural roads between Orvieto and Viterbo, You can access the Civita walking down and up from the new part of Bagnoregio. There is a car park close to the access and view point (best pictures from there) as well as restaurants and shops. Parking is more expensive than in the center, but the walk is too long from the next place you could park the car.
It feels a bit weird to me that you have to pay entrance to a village, where actual people (12 permanently) live, but I guess it helps to preserve the village.
The only bridge to access the Civita and the village itself are clearly not made for cars. But it’s Italy and of course they found a way to use vehicles anyway. There is are 2 or more tiny Red Cross cars driving on the bridge, being only able to pass by if pedestrians clutch themselves to the railing. Several motorbikes passed the bridge as well during our visit.
The village has no real highlights to offer, but is like a beautiful piece of art in total. We visited a tiny cave museum with Etruscan and Medieval remains for only 2 EUR per person. At the end of the village, there is a private garden that can be visited for a donation or the purchase of some local product. No question we went for the products. All the houses are made of tuff and most of them are restaurants or hotels. Apart from garden and caves, you can visit every corner of the village in about 20 minutes. I spent a lot of time taking pictures approaching and leaving the Civita.
Unfortunately, I can’t say much about the cultural landscape. There are no buildings around to spoil the view, so it underlines the general beauty of this place.There are some hiking path pointed out at the entrance point. If you have more time, try one of these.
Updates September/2021: I am reading the nomination file and thinking intensively about the OUV justification. The town Bagnoregio, the hamlet Civita, and the surrounding Valle dei Calanchi (Badlands Valley) have been proposed as the core zone.
The text is rather confusing, the justification is full of flowery phrases not easily understandable for me. The new term "antifragility" as the main feature of Civita has been invented and proposed following the Italian tradition of artificial intellectual constructions (Bologna porticoes). It is argued that the place is permanently inhabited since Etruscan times, and now there are still around 10 residents. Without the human interventions Civita would be totally eroded as seen all around. I am wondering why the inhabitants are so stubborn, maybe the reason is a beauty of the place...
In the comparative analysis, places like Athos, Meteora, and other similar sites all over the world are mentioned. However, the highest frequency of the comparable places are in Italy: WHSs - Amalfi, Matera, Cinque Terre, Piedmont vineyards, Val d´Orcia, TWHSs - Volterra, Orvieto, and other sites - Pitigliano in Tuscia, or Aliano in Basilicata. I have to admit that Civita is kind of different when compared to above listed sites. The integrity and authenticity is indisputable. The Civita houses are built from the same tufa stones on which they stand, and there is no disturbing element. Even the concrete bridge from 1963, which is described in the justification in detail, is OK and can be taken as the important element of the site.
All in all, I changed my mind (my review from 2018 below). The quality of the Civita cultural landscape is understandable even without reading thick books or understanding the term ANTIFRAGILITY. When looking at the nominations for 2022, Civita is probably the best one of all European proposals - Thumb Up!
The site is accessible from the town of Bagnoregio in Lazio region and the first sight towards the Civita valley is breathtaking. Civita is accesible for pedestrians only via one bridge for a fee of few Euros. The town of Civita is quite small and it is still diminishing due to the collapsing of tufa rocks, and there is almost nothing special inside the town - a gate, little streets and a square with stone houses. We also try to enter the valley around Civita as we did a loop around the Civita landscape by car, but it is not easy to access it and even to view it from other sites than from Bagnoregio because of thick bushes and collapsed side-roads. It would require more time for detailed exploration of the landscape around the Civita than we had. We traveled from Orvieto to the Viterbo region and this was just a short stop.
I am afraid that similar eroded landscape can be seen also in other parts of Italy and Mediterranean, and Civita itself is small sister of more impresive Orvieto in Umbria or Pitigliano in Tuscany. Therefore, I am not sure if there is any OUV. Anyway, I would recommend enjoying the view from the terrace of Bagnoregio over the valley of Civita with glass of beer from the nearby bar...
2023 Requested by State Party to not be examined
2017 Added to Tentative List
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