A recent village to Cività di Bagnoregio didn’t leave me with the sentiments I quite expected. After returning from what has now become a pristine theme park with beautifully restored buildings, reverent tourists and manicured pathways, it was a disappointment to return to my own much-loved village (also 2500 years old and also perched atop a crag) and note the signs of neglect: weeds growing between the cobbles, cat poo and graffiti.
The facades of the old square in my village have recently been restored at huge expense using funds from the EU and the Region of Lazio, which cannot be blamed for this neglect.
The fault lies much closer to home. Firstly, a prevailing attitude among the local residents: in the 1970s the old town centre, with its connotations of backwardness and decrepitude was abandoned in favour of modern new-builds on the outskirts. The hippies and artists who arrived to take their place, glad to find cheap accommodation in the crumbling, picturesque ruins, were always viewed with suspicion by the original locals. The old village centre briefly became a no-go area.
Secondly, I blame the town council. Lured by the attraction of potential quick earnings from new-builds over the complications of maintaining the village’s historical heritage, they actually had the entire old town centre declared uninhabitable in the 1980s (an order that was later rescinded). This attitude has prevailed over the years and is exemplified by the fact that the Christmas lights illuminate the newer parts of the village but stop short of the old town square. We residents of the old centre also had to campaign vigorously for the door-to-door waste and recycling collection enjoyed by the rest of the village. Any street cleaning that goes on in the old centre is only done sporadically. This is all the more galling because we pay the same exorbitant council tax and waste collection taxes as all the other residents.
The town council pays cynical lip service to preserving its heritage by such actions as holding public meetings to discuss the territorial plans that the Region of Lazio has ordered every Comune to produce as if this were actually a real exercise in democracy rather than bureaucratic box-ticking. I went to the meeting to discuss our plan (commissioned at vast expense from an eminent architect) and predictably enough it turned out to be a fictitious masterpiece of green public spaces, building preservation and campaigns to promote tourism that are destined never to see the light of day.
Another such cynical action was declaring our village to be a Città dell’Arte . One of the requirements for achieving this status is to have a permanently open art gallery. Could this have some bearing on the fact that the huge international conglomerate producing nuts, bolts and fasteners of all kinds that was granted permission to build a massive logistics centre on the outskirts of our village a few years ago now incongruously houses a much-underused Museum of Modern Art? I couldn’t possibly comment…