The Dying City of Cività di Bagnoregio, Italy

by Hamish Sinclair / May 03, 2012 / 0 comments

A weird and wonderful place near me is known as The Dying City.  Its real name is Cività di Bagnoregio.

It’s called Cività di Bagnoregio because it is the old original town of the new town of Bagnoregio.

When you look at the city from a distance, it looks like there’s been a huge earth quake and all the land around the city has sunken down around it.  And this makes the city look like it is slowly crumbling into the valley, so that’s why it’s also known as The Dying City.


The Dying City of Cività di Bagnoregio, Italy



The city sits balanced on top of a mound of earth, and all around the sides it looks like the ground will fall away from it at any minute.  It can only be reached by walking across a 200 metre-long walk way.  Standing across the other side of the walkway and looking across at the city, it looks just like a ghost town.  When you first see this strange city it doesn’t seem real, more like something you would only imagine, dream about, or see in a movie (it has been used in movie sets!).  It seems even more unreal during the winter months when the valley surrounding it is often covered in fog and all you can see floating on the clouds is the city, making it seem eerie and ghost like.

The hill that the city sits on is very unstable because it was formed by lots of layers of tufa (which is a soft volcanic rock typical to central Italy).  The tufa comes from many volcanic eruptions between 700,000 and 125,000 years ago.  And this tufa or volcanic rock also sits on top of clay and sand.  The valley around Cività has two streams which flow through the area and are slowly washing away the clay bottom of the valley.

The wonderful part of this city is that it is a remnant of the past that seems to be miraculously surviving the passage of time and natural adversities. These have changed a once rich and prosperous city into a dying town, destined to perish but still clinging to life.  The refusal to die is seen in the people of the town who refuse to abandon their houses and keep the city neat and tidy and maintain them with a lot of care.  There are now only about 20 people who live in Cività all year round.  In the summer, the population grows to around 300 people as families return from the big cities to their family homes, with many Romans investing in properties in the country for their summer residences.


The Dying City of Cività di Bagnoregio, Italy



Now for the weird part……

Cività di Bagnoregio has a legend about a suicidal donkey!!  Yes, that’s right, suicidal donkey!

The story goes that there was once a donkey named Pasquino.  Pasquino was a pack donkey who was used to carry wood and other things across the long narrow bridge that connected Cività with the new city.  Pasquino apparently got so tired and bored of crossing the bridge for many years that one day he just jumped off the edge and killed himself!! 

The city now holds an annual Donkey Race, yep a donkey race, in the middle of the old city every year in celebration of the death of Pasquino!  This race is known as La Tonna.  I’m not quite sure what it means in English, but it is all about a donkey race around a circular track set up in the main square of the old city.

Because it’s not possible to get a car into the old city and before the invention of the scooter or Ape (a small car used in Italy for the little narrow streets), the only way you could get your belongings into the city was by donkey or on your own back.  So the people of Cività love donkeys as they have saved them much hard work over the years.

The donkey race is run around a circular track of about 100 metres in length.  The donkeys race two at a time with their riders riding bareback (ouch!), as fast as they can around the track 3 times.  After each race, the losing donkey is eliminated and the winning donkey goes onto race the next challenger.  This goes on until there is one ultimate winner, who wins the Palio for the owners of the donkey who normally represent a certain area or contrada of the old city.

So wonderful, yes and weird, certainly but definitely worth a visit if you ever come to Italy.



Hamish Sinclair is a member of the Youth Travel Blogging Mentorship Program



All photos courtesy and copyright Hamish Sinclair