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In and About Viterbo Bagnoregio

Viterbo is located at the centre of a low plateau (1,000 ft high) between the sea and the Tiber valley. This valley is some 300 ft high and the edge of the plateau is marked by deep ravines which isolate long and narrow hills of tufa rock, very often having a flat top .
The Etruscans chose these locations for their towns as they were easily defensible and healthy. The land near the Tiber was often marshy and exposed to floods.
But the tufa rock upon which Bagnoregio was built rests on layers of clay which over time tend to slip downwards, thus determining the collapse of sections of the rock above them. This explains why it is called il paese che muore, the dying town.

View of Civita di Bagnoregio
View of Civita di Bagnoregio

Civita (city) as the oldest part of Bagnoregio is called, is now completely isolated from the plateau to which it was once united by a ridge.

The only remaining gate of Civita
The only remaining gate of Civita

The only access to Civita is through a light modern pedestrian bridge leading to the only remaining gate (Porta di S. Maria). The gate is protected by a tower and it is decorated with reliefs (one of which is shown as background image of this page).

Former cathedral of Bagnoregio
Former cathedral of Bagnoregio

Cars cannot reach Civita and one immediately after having crossed the gate realizes how much the site gains from this fact.
The church of S. Donato was the cathedral of Bagnoregio until 1699, when this role was assigned to a new church built in the safer area where most of the inhabitants had moved. It has an elegant Renaissance fašade while the interior is medieval.

Typical medieval houses with external staircase
Typical medieval houses with external staircase

Today Civita is springing up anew. The difficulty of access which caused its almost total abandonment, today attracts people who look for a quiet buen retiro (good retreat). Most of the medieval houses in the central area of Civita have been restored in recent years.

Renaissance portals
Renaissance portals

Many architectural features of Civita show that it was the centre of Bagnoregio well into the XVIth century, while there are no signs of the styles which were developed later.

Walls at the eastern tip of Civita and view from there towards the Tiber valley
Walls at the eastern tip of Civita and view from there towards the Tiber valley

Civita ends with a small terrace near a short stretch of the ancient walls. From there one can see a vast area where almost all of the tufa rocks have disappeared, thus exposing to view the layers of clay which lay below them. In a way, the view shows the destiny of Civita.

Renaissance gate and palace in Bagnoregio
Renaissance gate and palace in Bagnoregio

Towards the end of the XVIth century what in medieval times was a suburb of Bagnoregio gradually became its main centre. At the end of that century the erection of a fine Renaissance gate was a sort of confirmation that the new town was taking over the old one.

Roman column and a generic papal coat of arms in Civita; a madonnella in Bagnoregio; coat of arms of Bagnoregio

In and about Viterbo - other pages:
Orte and Vasanello
S. Maria della Querce
S. Martino al Cimino

Walks with Ferdinand Gregorovius in the Roman countryside

some other walks:
A walk to Porta Furba
Via Appia Antica from Cecilia Metella to Torre in Selci
Via Appia Antica from Torre in Selci to Frattocchie

See my Home Page on Baroque Rome or my Home Page on Rome in the footsteps of an XVIIIth century traveller

All images © 1999 - 2004 by Roberto Piperno. Write to