Our next destination was across Umbria and into Lazio. Originally founded by Etruscans, Cività di Bagnoregio (pop <15), lies on top of a wide spire of land that emerges from the countryside about 2km from its former suburb, Bagnoregio (pop 3,600), and about 60 miles north of Rome. It is known as the dying town (la città che muore).
Cività’s demise has been due to an earthquake in the 17th century that led many residents to move to Bagnoregio, eroding land that threatens the stability of houses on the edges and a general attraction to larger nearby cities, such as Rome. Today it remains as an off the beaten path tourist attraction for those willing to take the journey.
To arrive you must walk about a 1km on a small foot bridge that winds into the 12th century gate. The buildings with their exposed brick and creeping vines all give the sense of a perfectly preserved time. It is quite a romantic setup.
Yet, compared to Castelnuovo dei Sabbioni, Cività is not dying. It may be economically weak or losing its residents in larger population trends towards the city. It’s soil may even be eroding. But the town is preserved for what it is as a tourist attraction, come who may.
Cività is perfectly preserved and post-card ready. The signs are there, whether it is directions for the nearest trattoria or a summer theater festival. The town, at least, continues to inspire future generations with its beauty and safe abandon. Is it dying or is it just another quaint town to see outside of Rome?
I still wonder what makes a town die. Castelnuovo is falling apart and the flies indicate no sign of life. No one, aside from the oddity enthusiast, is interested in going. Cività is preserved in its historical state with romantic ideals of an abandoned Italian town ready for exploring. Yet with 200 tourists arriving each day, one would hardly be alone.
And then I think about the locks, designed by Leonardo da Vinci, in Bologna’s intricate canal system that allowed trade to Venice and was functioning from the 15th century into the 1950s. Today with 60 years neglect, none of the lock mechanisms work despite 500 years of good service and maintenance.
Italy’s record on preserving its cultural heritage, such as Pompeii, does not bode well for the country that rests its laurels on its own history and cultural achievements.
Furthermore with minimal management of abandoned spaces amidst all this beauty, it makes sense that an artist group would want to squat and occupy it, such as Bussana Vecchia.
Will these beautiful and unique places truly die? Or will they become preserved? Or will someone come around and try and breathe new life into them?