Civita di Bagnoregio sits about 78 miles north of Rome, atop a volcanic plateau halfway between Orvieto and Lake Bolsena. Nicknamed the Dying Town, Civita is a strikingly beautiful township jutting into the sky — and, as its nickname implies, it will eventually sink into the earth.
There’s good news, of course. After years of population decline, Civita (the hamlet at the top of the town) and Bagnoregio (the suburb where most residents live) have experienced a resurgence in tourism. Here are some fast and fascinating facts about this hidden gem.
1. It Was Founded More Than 2,500 Years Ago
The ancient people of Italy, the Etruscans, settled in the region during the seventh century B.C. They built thriving agricultural and commercial communities, and as they expanded into the southern portion of the country, they founded the Civita di Bagnoregio atop a volcanic tower overlooking the Tiber.
Needless to say, the city is rich in history.
2. You Won’t Always Be Able To Visit
While the Etruscans likely chose the city’s location for its height — it offered defensive advantages, along with amazing views of the valley — the volcanic base has become unstable over the centuries. Today, the ground beneath the city is literally crumbling away.
Over the years, the earth has gradually broken away, occasionally sending homes, palaces, and walls toppling into the valley. The 13th-century childhood home of medieval theologian Saint Bonaventure was once within the city limits, but sadly, it’s now lost to history.
Experts believe that Civita di Bagnoregio is just one-third of its original size. The population declined significantly after a large earthquake in 1695, and even today, the city suffers up to 20 landslides each year.
3. The Only Way To Visit Is Via Footpath
When the citizens of Civita di Bagnoregio began fleeing the city, most simply settled in the geographically stable suburbs (modern Bagnoregio). Once, a donkey path connected the Civita to the suburban settlements, but that has since worn away. Today, the only way to get to the original city is via a permanent footpath.
The path up to the city is long and steep. However, the ancient city is still inhabited; citizens simply have to walk the footpath regularly to purchase food, use the post office, or enjoy any of the other benefits of modern life.
4. It Has Remained Much The Same Since The Middle Ages
Because of its location, Civita di Bagnoregio has remained isolated and protected. Its stone streets and buildings are wonderfully well preserved, and in recent years, history lovers have flocked to the city to take a trip back in time.
One of the city’s crown jewels is the magnificent stone passageway at the entrance. Built by the Etruscans when the city was founded, the passage was decorated with a Romanesque arch in the 12th century. The stunning view makes for a wonderful photo opportunity for visitors.
5. It’s The Only Italian City With An Entrance Fee
The erosion around the city is extreme, and the cost to keep the city standing is quite high. To better address its never-ending battle with the forces of nature, Civita di Bagnoregio became the first (and only) Italian city to charge an entrance fee.
Visitors must pay 5 euros (around $6) to enter the city. You can buy tickets online ahead of time or purchase them at the ticket booth at the bottom of the footpath.
6. It Has A Population In The Double Digits
During the summer months, tourists bump the population numbers up to a couple hundred thanks to bed and breakfasts within the city. While more than 700,000 people visit the city each year, the population dips in the winter.
During periods of low tourism, the population reaches the low double digits. According to one report, only 10 residents call the city their permanent home.
7. The Main Piazza Is A Gem
Piazza San Donato, the centerpiece of the city, was once the main forum of the town and is still home to many of its most beautiful relics. Here, you can see the facade and bell tower of the 13th-century Cathedral of San Donato. Festivals, parades, and donkey races take place in the piazza during the summer months.
While its geography has doomed the city, preservation efforts have ensured a wonderful experience for visitors. Visiting Bagnoregio is a once-in-a-lifetime experience that certainly deserves a spot on any dedicated adventurer’s bucket list; after all, few travelers can say that they’ve spent time in a disappearing hamlet on an Italian hill.