Civita di Bagnoregio was founded by Etruscans over twenty-five hundred years ago, but has seen its population dwindle to just fifteen residents over the course of the 20th century. Cività was the birthplace of Saint Bonaventure, who died in 1274. The location of his boyhood house has long since fallen off the edge of the cliff. By the 16th century Civita was beginning to decline, becoming eclipsed by its former suburb Bagnoregio.
At the end of the 17th century, the bishop and the municipal government was forced to move to Bagnoregio due to a major earthquake, accelerating the old town's decline. At that time the area was part of the Papal States. In the 19th century Civita's location was turning into an island and the pace of the erosion quickened as the layer of clay below the stone was reached in the area where today's bridge is located. Bagnoregio continues as a small but prosperous town, while Civita became known as il paese che muore (in Italian: "the dying town"). Civita has only recently been experiencing a tourist revival.
The town is noted for its striking position atop a plateau of friable volcanic tuff overlooking the Tiber river valley, in constant danger of destruction as its edges fall off, leaving the buildings built on the plateau to crumble. As of 2004, there are plans to reinforce the plateau with steel rods to prevent further geological damage. The city is also much admired for its architecture, some spanning several hundred years. Civita di Bagnoregio owes much of its unaltered condition to its relative isolation: the town was able to withstand most intrusions of modernity as well as the destruction brought by two world wars. The population today varies from about 12 people in winter to over 100 in the summer.
The town was placed on the World Monuments Fund's 2006 Watch List of the 100 Most Endangered Sites, due to the threats it faces from erosion and unregulated tourism.
Sorano | Entering the territory of Sorano from the surrounding plains, you feel as though you have entered another world. The erosions caused by water, the crumbling of the tufaceous cliffs, together with the work of man, have created a unique fantasy landscape - something almost unreal which transports the visitor beyond time and space. Dozens of tufaceous bluffs and peaks, of varied and bizarre shapes, are scattered along the valley of the Lente river. On one of those peaks rises the town of Sorano, stretching crosswise out over the valley, resembling the wall of a dam. Over the centuries, the blocks of tufaceous rock from which the houses are built have taken on the same color of the bedrock on which the village stands so that the houses appear to have been carved from the rock by a the hand of a giant sculptor. Down below flows the Lente river, calm and crystal clear- home to herons greedy for fish and sweet water shrimp. Sorano
In the valley, today an archaeological park, hidden in the woods of oak, chestnut, and ilex trees, colossal masses of tufaceous rock thrust up among the branches, rock walls end in a sudden plunge, the rock face is hollowed out with the silent eye-like openings of the ancient tombs where wild boar and goats seek refuge. Half hidden by thick foliage proffering a thousand shades of green, by the bright yellow of the broom in flower, by lilacs - safe shelter for the many hedgehogs and foxes that have made their dens here -- are dozens of terraced slopes planted with fertile gardens, vineyards, and olive groves. Sorano
Here the Etruscans carved their monumental roads. It is a moving experience today to follow those roads, still full of magic - and permeated by a natural, archaic, and powerful sense of the sacred. As you wander, you can sense the Etruscans' great love for life, not yet divided between the "sublime spirit" and "vulgar matter." They knew how to penetrate the mysteries of the great mother earth with an almost instinctive intuition which we call divination. Then, when their time was up, they joyously accompanied the body on its return to the immense womb. Sorano
This would seem to have been the function of these splendid roads uniting the city of the living and the city of the dead, which lay beyond the river. But with the Etruscans you can never be sure of anything. They were careful not to leave indelible traces. Indeed they seem to have passed through these places with a soft tread and a delicate and sensitive touch. Little remains - but their benevolent presence still lingers, along with an aura of protection, and above all their enigmatic smile. It is this same - almost challenging smile - appearing on the lips of the Etruscan Apollo and of many of their statues and frescoes which has survived through time, despite all the invasions, to reappear more discreetly on the lips of the Mona Lisa. You still see it today, on the faces of their descendants, beneath their high cheek bones. Sorano
This penchant for carving out the womb of the earth- no longer the mother goddess- has survived through the centuries - perhaps in obedience to a tradition, or out of necessity, or maybe because the rock here yields more easily. Hollowed in the rock here you find not only the famous tombs, but entire areas of rock dwellings, hermitages, and convents, ceramic and carpentry workshops, dovecots, sheep folds, and barns for donkeys, once the indispensable companions of man's labor. Today the grottoes that line the roads to the village have been transformed into garages for "apetti," buzzing three-wheeled vehicles. You'll see them set off early in the morning for a days work, with a peasant driving and often his wife beside him, a hunting dog in the back, only to return again in the evening, heavily laden, the donkey of our times, carrying firewood, or grapes in the time of the grape harvest, or fruit, vegetables, or flowers picked in season from the gardens.