Italy's 'dying town' seeks UNESCO heritage nod

This is Italy’s so-called 'dying town.’

The picture-perfect hillside town of Civita di Bagnoregio is 3,000 years old - but it’s unstable and vulnerable to collapse.

It’s been reduced to a third of its original size due to erosion, earthquakes and landslides that have chipped away at its edges.

Luca Profili is the town mayor.

"Our motto is 'resilience' because Civita was founded by Etruscans, passed through the Roman era and the entire medieval period to reach the present day. This place is so fragile because the problem it faces is its geomorphological conformation. The cliff is made of clay and tufo (volcanic rock), and it is always subject to atmospheric agents, rain and winds that have totally changed its appearance in recent years."

The town is now only 500 feet long, 300 feet wide, and only accessible via a foot bridge.

But its inhabitants have gone to great lengths to preserve their beloved home.

They’ve built seven ‘structural wells’ underground around its perimeter which have hundreds of steel rods attached to the hillside rock to prevent it from collapsing.

Geologist Luca Constanti said that if these measures hadn’t been taken, it’s likely the town would have completely disappeared by now.

"This is the heart of our interventions, this is the heart of Civita. As you can see, we are surrounded by all these cracks in the rock because the rock tends to break near the edges of the city. All this mass of rock, which is more orless all broken and tends to collapse on the edges, is kept together by these wells and by these steel rods which, exactly like plugs stuck in a wall, hold everything back."

Tourism has been pivotal in the town’s struggle to survive.

It went from 40,000 tourists a year in 2009 to over a million in 2019, according to the mayor.

This brought new jobs and financial boost thanks to the 5 euro entrance fee charge.

That income helps fund the structural monitoring system that helps hold the town up.

It also means residents don't have to pay municipal taxes.

Of course, the past year of lockdowns and international travel bans have been challenging but Profili said visitors from within Italy have still been able to visit and support the conservation.

And there’s one more reason to be hopeful.

Civita di Bagnoregio and the surrounding valley are a candidate to become a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Achieving such a status would likely bring the international attention and tourism the town needs in order to hold out a little longer.

Video Transcript

- This is Italy's, so-called, "dying town." This picture perfect hillside town of Civita di Bagnoregio is 3,000 years old, but it's unstable and vulnerable to collapse. It's been reduced to one third of its original size due to erosion, earthquakes, and landslides that have chipped away at its edges. Luca Profili is the town's mayor.

LUCA PROFILI: [SPEAKING ITALIAN]

INTERPRETER: Our motto is resilient because Civita was founded by Etruscans, passed through the Roman era, and the entire medieval period to reach the present day. This place is so fragile, because the problem it faces is its geomorphological confirmation. The cliff is made of clay and tufo, and it is always subject to atmospheric agents, rain, and winds that have totally changed its appearance in recent years.

LUCA PROFILI: [SPEAKING ITALIAN]

- The town is now only 500 feet long, 300 feet wide, and only accessible via footbridge. But its inhabitants have gone to great lengths to preserve their beloved home. They've built seven structural wells underground around its perimeter, which have hundreds of steel rods attached to the hillside rock to prevent it from collapsing. Geologist Luca Constanti said that if these measures hadn't been taken, it's likely the town would have completely disappeared by now.

LUCA CONSTANTI: [SPEAKING ITALIAN]

INTERPRETER: This is the heart of our interventions. As you can see, we are surrounded by all these cracks in the rock because the rock tends to break near the edges of the city. All this massive rock, which is more or less all broken and tends to collapse on the edges, is kept together by these wells and by these steel rods which exactly like plugs in a wall, hold everything back.

LUCA CONSTANTI: [SPEAKING ITALIAN]

- Tourism has been pivotal in the town's struggle to survive. It went from 40,000 tourists a year in 2009, to over a million in 2019, according to the mayor. This brought new jobs and a financial boost, thanks to the five euro entrance fee. That income helps fund the structural monitoring system that helps hold the town up. It also means residents don't have to pay municipal taxes. Of course, the past year of lockdowns and international travel bans have been challenging. But Profili said visitors from within Italy have still been able to visit and support the conservation. And there's one more reason to be hopeful. Civita di Bagnoregio and the surrounding valley are a candidate to become a UNESCO World Heritage site. Achieving such a status would likely bring the international attention and tourism the town needs in order to hold out a little longer.