Like a fairytale kingdom floating over the Tiber River Valley, Civita is one spot on earth seemingly untouched since medieval times. Perched on a pinnacle of tufa rock high above a vast canyon, erosion and earthquakes over time caused parts of this once prosperous village to tumble into the valley below. Formerly attached to her sister city Bagnoregio by a saddle of land, Civita is destined to eventually perish but stubbornly refuses to let go.
My experience with Civita is short but holds lasting impressions. A footbridge 900 ft. long crosses the chasm and leads up to tall medieval gates. The view of the canyon below reminds me of a lunar landscape. Evidence of fallen chunks of earth and tufa surround the valley, leaving deep grooves that mar the landscape. The entrance to the village is a massive stone passageway cut through rock by the Etruscans 2500 years ago and embellished in the 12th century with a Romanesque arch.
As I pass under the archway, my feet touch down on old stone. Ivy crawls up walls and drapes over old archways. Pots of red geraniums line stairs and balconies. All is quiet but the occasional drip of the swirling grey mist.
Down the street, I notice a Renaissance palace on the piazza with only a facade. The rest of the house broke off and fell into the valley far below years ago due to the erosion of the hill. Windows reveal the sky instead of curtains.
A church on the main piazza is originally the site of an Etruscan temple that became a Roman church. Tall pillars across the front stand as a reminder of those early pagan shrines.
The ground beneath Civita is honeycombed with ancient cellars and cisterns. Some have existed since Etruscan times and are still used for storing wine and collecting rainwater. During World War II, a bomb shelter was made inside a pre-Roman tunnel.
The late afternoon grows cold and damp as I explore the further reaches of Civita. Following a pathway just down from the village, I find a small cave-like taverna with a warm fire illuminating the dark interior. The warmth draws me in. A 1500 year old olive press stands inside the doorway, once operated by blindfolded donkeys.
A young friendly man greets and seats me at a small table by the fire. Slices of bread are toasting on top of a grate over lapping flames. Shadows dance on the walls as the smell of hot bread and garlic fill the room. Sipping a glass of red wine, I watch as the bread is taken from the hearth. An olive tapenade is spread liberally on the garlic-rubbed bruschetta and placed before me. Maybe it is the combination of drizzling weather and the warmth of the open fire, or that it was hours since I had eaten. Possibly it was the entire magical experience of Civita. Whatever the reason, the rustic goodness was unforgettable.