Part of the historical Tuscia region, the fairytale town of Civita di Bagnoregio is a must-visit for anybody interested in history or beautiful scenery. Meaning “Town of the Royal Bath”, this town sits atop a bluff of tuff – a type of rock formed by the buildup of volcanic ash.
If you’re staying in Rome, lucky you – Civita di Bagnoregio is ideal for a day trip from the Italian capital. It couldn’t be easier to get to: just 120 kilometers (75 miles) north of Rome, it’s easy to drive and guided tours regularly ply the route between the two.
Once you’re there, it’s simply a matter of crossing Civita di Bagnoregio’s famous footbridge.
A Brief History Of Civita Di Bagnoregio
Dubbed “The Dying City”, Civita di Bagnoregio is often thought of as one of the most beautiful towns in all of Italy. It’s home to only a handful of residents – that’s due to fears that the town is gradually crumbling away into the valley below. Still, it clings to its high position, surrounded by a magnificent landscape.
But that’s just the history of the modern day. Civita di Bagnoregio actually has a much more ancient history.
It was originally founded by the Etruscans – a civilization predating the Romans – over 2,500 years ago but was eventually conquered by the expanding city of Rome. The Etruscan street layout has remained unchanged over the years, while its defensive walls and buildings are a mishmash of medieval and Renaissance.
The city flourished under the Etruscans, and it became a strategic post for trade. That’s because it was situated along an important communication route. There are still many chambers and tunnels that lie beneath Civita di Bagnoregio’s cliffs, many of which have sadly been destroyed over the years due to seismic activity. For example, there was a sizable earthquake in 280 BC.
The Romans arrived in 265 BC and took over the running of the city. They helped to develop the city from a civil engineering standpoint, with additions to the city’s drainage and water supply systems.
By the 16th century, the fortunes of the town had started to decline. Towards the end of the 17th century, the municipal government had to make the move to the nearby suburb of Bagnoregio – again, due to an earthquake.
Part of the Papal State at this time, erosion of the clay and tuff of the rocky outcrop on which the town sat made it something like an island: hard to reach or communicate with. It was left practically abandoned, and virtually unknown by tourists, until the past few decades.
Main Attractions In Civita Di Bagnoregio
Only accessible by footbridge, there is a definite charm to Civita di Bagnoregio. That’s thanks to its architecture spanning hundreds of years and lacking the developments of the modern world that may have ruined its atmosphere.
Interestingly, it is thought that Studio Ghibli co-founder Hayao Miyazaki was so enchanted by the photos of Civita di Bagnoregio that he visited in 1990. It is thought that his work Laputa: Castle in the Sky was in part inspired by the mystical town itself.
Here are some of the highlights of Civita di Bagnoregio to hone in on during your trip.
Civita di Bagnoregio Belvedere
Before you even start your adventure across the footbridge, take some time to stop by the belvedere. Literally meaning “beautiful sight”, the Belvedere is a terrace situated in the modern-day town of Bagnoregio where you can catch a glimpse of the citadel jutting into the sky.
It’s a popular place to snap photos, and it’s easy to see why: the vista of the town from here is simply breath-taking.
Grotta di San Bonaventura
Before you cross the bridge, and once you’ve taken in those amazing views from the belvedere, make sure to pay a visit to the Grotta di San Bonaventura. This ancient grotto is actually much older than its Christian name suggests; in fact, this is an Etruscan-era tomb dug directly into the tuff.
It’s thought to have been turned into a chapel in the Middle Ages. That’s down to the legend that this is the place where Giovanni Fidanza – the future Saint Bonaventura – was healed from illness by Saint Francis of Assisi. Then a child, Giovanni eventually became a saint in 1482.
Porta Santa Maria
Long ago, Civita di Bagnoregio had not just one gate, but five city gates. The only one that remains today, however, is the Porta Santa Maria. Carved directly into the tuff, this is the main gateway into the city and was originally called Porta Cava.
If you’re going to Civita di Bagnoregio, you will of course be passing through the gate. One interesting thing to note is the mass of carvings that have been made in the walls of the gate. There are small triangles, tiny carvings thought to have been left by pilgrims returning from the Holy Land. There are also crosses, which are attributed to the Knights Templar – also returning from the Holy Land.
At this point you should also take note of the bas reliefs that decorate the doorway. These are depictions of lions that seem to be holding a human head. They are thought to be a celebration of the victory of Civita di Bagnoregio over the dominance of the powerful Orvieto family in 1457.
It is possible to enter the citadel via the valley below and through a tunnel that has been carved out through the outcrop. This is not for tourists!
Palaces of Civita di Bagnoregio
While it may look like one single castle or palace from afar, there are actually several palaces and houses of the nobility left intact at Civita di Bagnoregio. With external staircases and balconies – architecture typical of the Tuscia region – these buildings are like something out of another world. Walking the winding streets, you’ll stumble across a few important stately palaces.
There’s Palazzo Alemanni, home to the Geological and Landslides Museum, but formerly the abode of the wealthy Alemanni family; they were landowners in the 18th century. Palazzo Vescovile (the Bishop’s Palace) housed a mill in the 16th century, and is where the future Saint Bonaventura was born.
But the first palace you’ll come across is the Palazzo Colesanti, complete with many windows in a beautiful brick facade; this is the Renaissance era home of the Colesanti family.
The Palazzo Colesanti is located in the Piazza Colesanti. This charming square welcomes you into this otherworldly town with a mystifying hodgepodge of staircases, balconies overflowing with flowers and picturesque architectural details.
Spend some time here soaking up the ambience of the area – and make sure to turn around and enjoy the view back across the footbridge over the valley.
Church of San Donato
In the heart of Civita di Bagnoregio you’ll find the Church of San Donato. Situated in the piazza of the same name, this is the historical center of the citadel. It’s no surprise, then, that this is where you’ll also find the old town hall.
Amazingly, this religious structure dates back to the 5th century. However, it is theorized that the church actually sits on a much older religious site and has therefore undergone many changes during its history.
Originally a Romanesque church, today the church – complete with bell tower – is exemplified by its Renaissance architecture. But Etruscan history is never too far away: at the base of the church are two sarcophagi, carved from basalt, that are Etruscan in origin. Inside the church you can find a fresco by Perugino, and a wooden crucifix dating from the 15th century.
An earthquake in 1695 caused much damage to the Church of San Donato. It’s after this large earthquake that the entire town’s population decided to relocate to the nearby Bagnoregio.
Museo Geologico delle Frane
Situated in the Palazzo Alemmani, the Museo Geologico delle Frane – also known as the Museum of Geology and Landslides – is a surprisingly fascinating place to visit. Here you can learn all about the history and struggle of the townspeople of Civita di Bagnoregio as they battled against the landscape to survive.
Here you’ll learn about how earthquakes and landslides have affected the town over the centuries. The more recent work being undertaken to protect Civita di Bagnoregio from crumbling entirely is also detailed at this interesting museum.
Even if you’re not interested in geology, the museum is worth a visit simply just to see inside the beautiful Palazzo Alemanni. Construction of this Renaissance palace began in 1585, and so it is a living museum in itself.
Bridges of Civita di Bagnoregio
Being virtually an island in the sky, bridges are very important to the survival of Civita di Bagnoregio, and have been for many years. The real trouble began in the 19th century, when the clay beneath the tuff began to erode, causing much worry and creating a harder-to-reach location. The solution? Bridges.
However, the only way to get to the citadel today is the Ponte Panoramico di Civita. Completed in 1965, this modern cantilevered pedestrian-only bridge replaced a wooden structure that previously existed from the 1940s onwards.
Walking over the bridge is definitely an exciting way to enter the city. But maybe not one for people who are fearful of heights (like my sister). Either way, the views are amazing. It takes around 15 minutes to stroll across the bridge (with time allotted for photos, of course).
Please take care to notice you will have to show your tickets to enter the city right before being allowed onto the bridge.
Tips For Visiting Civita Di Bagnoregio, Italy
If you’re planning on visiting Civita di Bagnoregio, it’s good to be prepared. Here are a few tips to help your journey go as smoothly as possible.
How long to stay in Civita Di Bagnoregio
You really don’t need that much time in Civita Di Bagnoregio: the historical town is actually so small that you can visit it in just a couple of hours. But if you have time, plan to spend even a full day there: there are plenty of photo spots, charming corners and vistas that will capture your attention.
Get there early if you want to take good pictures
Speaking of photos… Civita di Bagnoregio is a truly beautiful sight to behold and because of that it has become very popular. The main viewpoints and photo opportunities have become busy with Instagrammers looking to take the best image. If you want to take some special pictures, arrive early in the day.
Avoid visiting at the weekend
And speaking of crowd – Although Civita di Bagnoregio has been dubbed “The Dying Village”, the number of tourists it attracts on the weekend has made it very much alive again.
Try to schedule your trip for a weekday in order to avoid the throngs of weekend day-trippers that flock to the small city in the sky. Weekends can be insanely busy (I can attest to that because my sister and I had the brilliant idea of visiting on a Sunday and we literally had to elbow our way through the city!).
Get your tickets in advance
You need to get tickets to be able to access the footbridge that takes you to the historic town.
While it is possible to buy tickets on arrival, either in the main car park in Bagnoregio or at the start of the footpath, it’s not always a fun experience to stand in line.
If you don’t like the idea of standing in line, then you should just book in advance. Simply option download the Civita di Bagnoregio app (available on Google Play). Civita di Bagnoregio tickets are €5.
It’s much better for peace of mind knowing that you don’t have to wait for your tickets – and the wait can sometimes be very long if it’s busy (again, I know this well as we visited on a Sunday and we forgot to get tickets beforehand).
If for some reason you forget to get the tickets or are unable to download the app on your phone, head to the ticket office by the footbridge as it is typically not nearly as busy as that by the parking lot.
How to get to Civita di Bagnoregio from Rome
Civita di Bagnoregio is actually a 30 minutes drive from Viterbo, but it’s easy enough to visit on day trips from Rome too. Let’s see the options you have to get there.
Guided day trips from Rome
There are regular guided tours departing from Rome to Civita di Bagnoregio. Tours are actually a great option, as they take away any stress of renting a car or working out train or bus times (you’ll realize what I mean in a bit). Simply book a tour and sit back while you learn all about the incredible town of Civita di Bagnoregio.
Most day trips to Civita di Bagnoregio also go to Orvieto, so you get to visit two lovely historic towns in a day.
Make sure to read my post The Best Day Trips From Rome.
The best and quickest way to reach Civita di Bagnoregio if you want to travel independently is by car. It’s about one hour and 40 minutes drive from Rome, and the drive is easy: the route is well signed. You will have to take the A1 highway towards Orvieto. There will be clear signs pointing out the destination as you get closer.
Check out the prices of car rental here.
The main parking lot – Belvedere Parking – is located in the modern town of Bagnoregio. Other car parks do exist, though these are slightly further away.
Once you park your car, there will be shuttle buses available at regular intervals to take you to the footbridge from where you can walk to the old town. If you don’t feel like waiting for the bus (there may be a line), you could simply walk – it’s a pleasant 15 to 20 minutes walk across the more modern side of town, which is actually quite pretty too!
Want to travel to Civita di Bagnoregio independently but prefer having a guided tour once there? Click here!
Civita di Bagnoregio and Orvieto are just 30 minutes drive apart, so you can definitely visit them both on the same day!
There are no direct trains or public buses from Rome to Civita di Bagnoregio and the journey is actually quite long (over three hours between train and bus) so I don’t really recommend it, unless you want to break the journey in Viterbo for a couple of nights.
If you still want to do it, here’s how: catch a train to Viterbo, and then take a local bus from there bound for Bagnoregio.
Trains from Rome to Viterbo Porta Romana station (the main station in Viterbo) depart from Roma Ostiense station. Depending on the time of day, the journey can take between one hour and 39 minutes and over 2 hours. Cotral runs the bus service from Viterbo to Bagnoregio. The bus ride takes 40 minutes.
Make sure to also read my posts:
- All The Train Stations In Rome
- The Best Hidden Gems In Tuscia
- A Curated Guide To Tuscia
- A Curated Guide To Viterbo