Civita di Bagnoregio

civita-di-bagno-regio – Photo © Patrizio Fradiani,
civita-di-bagno-regio – Photo © Patrizio Fradiani,

Perched on top of a hill among the valleys formed by Chiaro and Torbido streams, Civita appears clinged to the edge of a cliff where it dominates the wide desolated valley made up of calanchi.  This isolation is the result of a continuous erosion that makes the tufa rock becoming thinner and thinner on an unstable layer of clay and sand altered by wind and rain.

But when the town was founded by the Etruscans about 2.500 years ago, because of the different geological configuration, it was not so hard to get to Civita. During the Etruscan period, in fact, it was an important city for its position along an ancient road connected to a dense network of trade routes. Many traces of this population come from the necropolis found in the rock beneath the belvedere of San Francesco Vecchio.

The cave of Saint Bonaventure, too, is supposed to be an Etruscan chamber tomb transformed into a chapel during the Middle Ages.Saint Bonaventure is one of the most important figures of Civita,who,it is said, was miraculously cured from a serious illness by St. Francis of Assisi.

From the few available ancient documents, we know that Civita and Bagnoregio were parts of the same city called Balneum Regis (the bath of the king). This name was given by a Lombard king, Desiderious, as his wounds were cured by the salutary waters of the hot springs present in the area.

civita-di-bagno-regio – Photo © Markus Link
civita-di-bagno-regio – Photo © Markus Link

In 774, as the Lombards were defeated by the Franks, the city passed under the Papal State. In 1140 Civita became a free Commune, after a long series of feudal dominations. Among the feudal lords who ruled the town it is worthy to mention the Monaldeschi who were also lords of Orvieto.

The relations between Civita and Orvieto were not always peaceful for the many unsolved matters of boundaries and they were the cause of frequent hostilities among the inhabitants of the two towns. Furthermore, the Monaldeschi wanted to preserve their control over Civita as a strategic place in the religious conflicts against Viterbo. Actually, this control soon became a real dominion till 1457 when the people rebelled, destroying the Fortress of Cervara (belonging to the Monaldeschi). As a reminder of this victory, the sculptures of two lions grasping human heads were put over the gate of Santa Maria.

In 1695 the beginning of Civita’s decay was signed by a terrible earthquake which, causing serious damages to the roads and buildings, compelled many inhabitants to leave the city. The continuous sismic activities that followed in the course of the centuries, brought a long series of landslides; for this reason, Civita almost became completely desolated. Today, in fact, only a very small number of people live there who are determined to keep this little fragment of rock alive.

Civita, like an island in our memory or a figment of our imagination, is connected by a narrow walkway to reality and to the surrounding countryside; it takes us far away, not so much in distance as in time….

There is a feeling that one is leaving the real world, and this feeling becomes stronger after entering the ancient city gate, standing guard over a sheer drop between the remains of two houses with their windows open wide over the emptiness.

civita-di-bagno-regio – Photo © Davide Papalini
civita-di-bagno-regio – Photo © Davide Papalini

One almost has the impression that this gate opens into a supernatural world, surviving in another dimension. The rock below Civita is honeycombed with ancient cellars (for keeping wine at the same temperature all year) and cisterns (for collecting rainwater, since there was no well in town). Many date from Etruscan times.

Explore the streets, but remember — nothing is abandoned. Everything is still privately owned. After passing an ancient Roman tombstone on your left, you’ll come to Antico Frantoio Bruschetteria, a rustic place for bite to eat. Vittoria’s sons, Sandro, and Felice, and her grandsons Maurizio and Fabrizio (with his American wife, Heather) toast delicious bruschetta (roughly 10:00–20:00 in summer, tel. 0761-948-429). Peruse the menu, choose your topping (chopped tomato is super), and get a glass of wine for a fun, affordable snack.

While waiting for your bruschetta, take a look around to see Vittoria’s mill (mulino), an atmospheric collection of old olive presses. The huge olive press in the entry is about 1,500 years old. Until the 1960s, blindfolded donkeys trudged in the circle here, crushing olives, and creating paste that filled the circular filters and was put into a second press (if you’re not eating here, a €1 donation is requested).

Farther down the way and to your left, Maria shares her garden’s grand views (€1 donation) with a helping of historical misinformation (she says Civita and Lubriano were once connected). Maria’s husband, Peppone, used to carry goods on a donkey back and forth 40 times a day on the path between the old town and Bagnoregio. These two are the last of the native Civita residents (aged 82 and 90).

At Trattoria Antico Forno (“The Antique Oven”), owner Franco serves up pasta at affordable prices (daily for lunch 12:30-15:30 and sporadically for dinner 19:30-22:00, on main square, also rents rooms, tel. 0761-760-016). Pina’s Pizzeria cooks up good pizza and homemade sweets to eat there or to go (daily 12:00-22:00, near entry into town).

Short history of “Piciarello”
typical pasta of the nortern part of Lazio and of the southern part of Tuscany, also called Umbrichello, Ciriola, Strozzaprete, Lumbrichello, Spaghettone, according to the region or village you go to.

Its history dates back long time ago when the “spaghettoni” were made with some flour and water and seasoned with browned fat, becoming the joy of the guests during festivals.

It is also said that in the past, in order to get spiritual services, peasants gave priests some flour and this, together with some water, was enough for their housekeeper to make pasta (as eggs were too expensive).The name of “Strozzaprete” (choke-priest) comes from this story.
Courtesy in part of www.civitadibagnoregio.it