Near Orvieto is the borgo of Civita di Bagnoregio. The oldest part (Civita) sits perched on a pinnacle in the middle of a canyon. A near-perfect example of a hilltop city.
Access to the city was originally via a donkey path along the saddle connecting Civita to Bagnoregio. Today the saddle has eroded away and the only means of accusing the city is via a long pedestrian bridge. We visited off-season, so there were relatively few tourists making the trek. There are no cars in the city.
Apparently the bridge was destroyed in WWII and rebuilt in the 1960’s.
Civita (the old city) dates back to Etruscan and ancient Roman times. The bulk of its architecture dates to the middle-ages.
It was a wealthy city in the middle ages, with a population of thousands. A 17th century earthquake seems to have convinced the bulk of the population to move across the canyon to the newer (Renaissance era) village of Bagnoregio.
The tourist guides claim that the original lifelong residents have all left Civita – however we spoke to a man who was born and lived in the city his entire life, and he claims that there are eleven original residents still living in the city. I’ll take his word over that of the tourist books.
Even though it only has eleven full-time residents, it’s not abandoned. There are more tourist-serving restaurants than residents, and very few of the buildings were unmaintained. It appears as though much of the original housing has been converted to B & B’s or other tourist accommodations.
It’s a popular tourist destination, complete with Instagram addicts posing in front of various scenes with selfie-sticks outstretched & fake smiles.
The residents maintain a small museum in an old Etruscan cave. The artifacts in the museum are fairly recent – perhaps from the 18 & 1900’s.
Civita sits on a soft tufo susceptible to erosion, apparently making maintenance of foundations and buildings a continuous process. One of the techniques that I see used quite often in Italy is to run long iron rods through a building with wedges on each end. The rods keep the building walls from pulling away and heading downhill. The wedges keep tension on the rods. I’ve seen buildings with large (1 1/2″ diameter) rods through the entire length of a building, wedged on each end.
On the one hand it would be really cool to live in an old building perched on a cliff high above a canyon. On the other hand, if I lived in a building like that I’d be measuring the width of the foundation cracks every day and laying awake at night thinking about what would happen in an earthquake.
We parked in Bagnoregio, about 2km from Civita. On the walk back to our car the back wall of this building caught my eye. No idea why, but it did.