Italy’s City Of The Dead: Civita di Bagnoregio

Civita di Bagnoregio is a mystical, magical city.  Inhabited by only 14 full time residents, it is located deep in the Umbrian hill country. The city rises from the Canyon below almost totally isolated from the civilization around it.  The last bridge to the city was bombed in World War II.  A single narrow foot path was built after the war to reconnect the town to its neighbor, Bagnoregio.

Civita di Bagnoregio was constructed in the 8th century by Etruscans and was, for a time, part of the Etruscan’s principle route to Rome.  Entry into the town is accomplished by climbing the steep roadway on foot, or relying on a motorcycle or motor scooter.  It is a tourist destination only for the adventurous and the strong.  The trek is almost impossible for the frail or those with small children. For visitors willing and able to climb to Civita, the journey ends by walking through the city gate, carved from the stone over 2500 years ago.SAM_0197

The isolation of Civita results from the ongoing erosion of the rock on which the town was built so many centuries ago.  Because there are so few remaining residents in a town large enough to a far larger population, it is sometimes identified as the “City of the Dead”.  But for those of us who visit, Civita offers a rare opportunity to experience a lifestyle that is, almost literally, from an ancient time.  Only the few tourists, and the occasional motorcycle, give us any clue that we are living in the 21st century instead of the middle ages.

The inaccessibility of this destination is a testament to the tenacity of its residents.  There are more restaurants than residents. Visitors are few, but those who enter Civita are fortunate to visit a town almost totally untouched by the outside world.  Restaurants serve food that is hearty and filling.  It is cooked from simple ingredients over the heat of small, open fires.  Cold drinks are in short supply. The architecture of the town is truly unique, even in a country of ancient buildings.

If you want an experience of a lifetime, visit Civita di Bagnoregio.  You won’t be sorry.

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The Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence, Italy

The Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore/Flower, dominates the central square in Florence, Italy.  Construction began in 1296 and was completed in 1436. It stands on the site of an earlier church erected during the 7th century.  Identified as a basilica or duomo, the complex of buildings at the site a cathedral, it is the home congregation for the Archbishop of Florence.  Wow.  When Terry and I visited Florence in 2011, 575 years after it was completed, I had to marvel at the comparatively pristine condition of the complex.

Our day in Northern Italy would not have been complete without visiting this architectural marvel. The architecture is alternately described as  Gothic, Classic and Romanesque, because it has elements of each of those styles and more.  The world was changing in the late 1300’s and the early 1400’s. The architecture of this magnificent structure was changing with it.

At the extreme right in the photograph is the bell tower, or Campanile, the second of the three buildings in the cathedral complex.  It’s design and construction were overseen, until his death, by the famous Italian architect and painter, Giotto di Bondone.  The pink, white and green facade reflects the natural colors of the marble from which the facade of the building was constructed. The intricate designs, exquisite windows and interior and exterior sculptures and Biblical works of art, are characteristic of the churches of Northern Italy built at that time.  But this is no less a masterpiece.

I particularly focused on the gilt bronze panels on the doors that  are situated on three sides of the duomo.  Additional, similar doors are on the baptistery, the third buildings in the cathedral complex.  Like every other aspect of the cathedral, the craftsmanship and detail are of the highest quality.  They evidence that the finest artists and intellectuals gravitated to Florence and helped usher in the Italian Renaissance.  Look at the detail of the faces and the elegance of the horns.

Surrounded by galleries, palaces and museums, the cathedral establishes Florence’s role as a center of  culture in the 1400’s.  Not surprisingly, the historic centre of the city is designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.  It shares that designation with Dubrovnik, Croatia, which has also been featured on this blog.

Cathedral at Orvieto, Italy

The Duomo at Orvieto is considered one of central Italy’s most beautiful cathedrals.  The construction of the massive structure extended for more than 3 centuries.  The cornerstone of  this magnificent cathedral was laid in 1290 A.D. by Pope Nicolas IV. He wanted a place to house a “miracle”, the Corporal of Bolsena.

It is strikingly beautiful.  Colorful murals and statues cover the exterior of the building are by many of the finest artists of the day, including Lorenzo Maitani.  The interior of the cathedral has frescoes by such artists as Fra Angelico and Luca Signorelli.  The cathedral, completed in the early 1600s, is considered to be a masterpiece of Gothic architecture.

The design and intricate detail of the cathedral flow together as the works of art–sculptures, mosaics, frescoes,windows, the carved stone and even the gables–are filled with Biblical scenes.  It is truly a work of art.

Unexpected Beauty While Strolling “Somewhere Else”

I love Italy.  Our trip to Northern Italy was filled with wonderful sights and smells and sounds.  In the presence of the massive buildings dating back hundreds of years, it was easy to be oblivious to the beauty of simple things.  On my return home, I realized that many of my favorite photographs are along the streets and neighborhoods we passed through on our way “somewhere else”.

The towns through which we travelled are ancient.  Civita di Banoregio, for example, was founded by Etruscans over twenty-five hundred years ago.  There are Etruscan and Roman ruins everywhere.  But for this post, just look at the construction of this wall.  You can see the seemingly primitive, but obviously durable, methods of erecting these walls and this archway.  Raw, enduring, but beautiful, nonetheless.

Houses and streets are built primarily of stone, concrete, stucco nd mortar.  There is evidence of generations of foot traffic. We walked by this hallway in an area of private residences. Like many neighborhoods in Northern Italy, heavy exterior doors open into hallways and common courtyards with plants, bicycles–a favorite method of transportation–and concrete benches.  I love the muted colors leading up to the splash of red.

The path on which Terry is standing goes nowhere.  Throughout the area, towns stand atop hills that plunge almost straight down to the valleys below.  Here the stone wall and wrought iron fence protect travelers from the edge of one of Umbria’s many cliffs.

I love the flags and banners that line this street.  They add just enough color to be fun to the stone and stucco buildings. The banners are important to the culture of many communities, are important in celebration and festivals.  There is even a sport/art requiring the tossing of the banners high into the air and–hopefully–catching them before they fall.

The red and green flowers follow the road from the first door on the right through to the turn in the road.  The massive walls dwarf the red door and the color simply disappears in a vee running through the middle of the photograph encourages the explorer to follow the bend in the road to the next adventure.  It is evident these streets are used primarily by pedestrians, bicycles and motor scooters rather than automobiles and trucks.

Many of the towns through which we walked were older than we could ever find in the States.  It is often difficult to assess whether the residents lived affluent or simple lives, the exteriors of the buildings were uniquely appealing, made more so by the profusion of geraniums of every hue.

Locals described to us that some families lived in homes that had been in their families for generations.  This home appeared to be quite luxurious with elegant touches in the arches, doors, crest on the wall and what appears to be a private garden through the stairway and door in the left corner of the wall.  The ivy softens the harsh stone and balances the shades of muted reds, yellows and greens that harmonize with the lavender on the doors and windows.

For me these photographs bring back memories of a great trip.  I hope they convey some sense of the simple beauty of the hill country.