I set out to visit the fabled and romantic hilltop village of Cività di Bagnoregio with plenty of preconceptions about what I would find: a spectacularly-located dying village (La città che muore) clinging to a crumbling crag, linked to civilisation only by a perilous causeway.
Nothing happened to quash this image immediately. I parked my car (cost €2) in the reasonably large and prosperous “new” town of Bagnoregio (as opposed to the dying Cività) and set off to walk the 15 minutes or so to the panoramic look-out from where you are afforded your first glimpse of the fairy-tale village.
And the sight does not disappoint: Cività di Bagnoregio looks like a location that might have been dreamed up by an illustrator of fantasy books. It literally takes your breath away, almost seeming to float in a deep valley marked with pale gashes that look like quarries but are actually a natural phenomenon caused by the erosion of clay soil to form gullies and ravines.
As you set out along the causeway towards Cività (a walk of approximately 10-15 minutes) and come closer to the village, the sight becomes more prosaic – more like any of the other beautiful old villages that dot Lazio and all of Italy. The only difference is that the buildings are extremely well-preserved and maintained with not a weed in sight and you have to pay €1.50 for the privilege of crossing the causeway and entering Cività itself.
A few fast-trotting muleteers are all that remain of an age when access to the village was by two or four feet alone and the precarious causeway was in constant danger of becoming impassable. Now it has become a sturdy structure straddling a car park designed to accommodate the tourist coaches that turn up here in their hundreds since such worthy patrons as Prince Charles in the UK and campaigning tourist guru Rick Steves in the US put the place on the map a few years ago.
The village is accessible by motorbikes and small vehicles. Emergency vehicles are on hand to ferry tourists overwhelmed by a combination of heat and steep cobbles. Everywhere you turn, tourists from all over the world are plying selfie-sticks to good effect.
A quick enquiry to a local revealed that at the time of writing (March 2017), there are four permanent residents in Bagnoregio. But there are a huge number of restaurants and bars plus a sprinkling of holiday homes. “For Sale” signs attest to a flourishing trade in real estate.
Cività di Bagnoregio is no longer on the critical list: it has been saved by turning it into a theme park. Go and wonder at it, because it is an incredible sight, but please spare a thought for all the other villages in Lazio and Italy that really are dying.