Bagnoregio is located on a promontory, between Lake Bolsena and the Tiber valley, in an area of amazing landscape due to its geology. Civita di Bagnoregio, the old town, is on an isolated hill connected to Bagnoregio by a long bridge.
All the hills surrounding Civita are characterized by large ‘massif des calanques’ that give it a lunar appearance. They consist of a layer of material of volcanic origin (tuff or other) coming from the nearby Vulsini Mountains which has been deposited on a layer of marine clays that are strongly subject to erosion.
The origins of the town are ancient and certainly date back to the Etruscans, at least the 6th century BC, who built their cities on promontories surrounded by two rivers. Here also passed the ancient road linking the sea and the lake of Bolsena where Vulsinium, one of the Etruscan capitals was located.
This road crossed the decumano (east-west road) of Bagnoregio, entered in Civita (which was not then isolated) and descended the other side towards the lake and was still in operation until the Middle Ages. On the sides of the road there were many caves with Etruscan tombs that are still visible.
On the other hand, there is not much information of the Roman period recorded by a cistern, tombs with a columbarium (dovecote style), a funerary stone and few artifacts. We must remember that this area has undergone profound devastation by the Barbarians and the oppressive domination by the Goths of Theodate.
From 605 Bagnoregio became part of the kingdom of the Lombards and at that time it was strategic for the control of upper Lazio and famous for its baths. It is mentioned with the name of Balneum Regis in a document by Gregory the Great for the appointment of a bishop of Civita and perhaps the name Bagnoregio comes from Desiderio, the king of the Lombards who was healed of an illness thanks to the thermal waters in the city.
In 774 Charlemagne took the town away from the Lombards and gave it to the Church, and shortly thereafter the times of fortification began, i.e. the construction of many small fortified castles in which the populace found refuge from invaders.
After a period of feudal lords, Bagnoregio declared itself a free municipality in 1140, but this freedom did not last long and in 1189 the emperor Henry VI (son of Federico Barbarossa) returned Bagnoregio to Pope Clement III.
Bagnoregio has always had a certain autonomy and the subsequent centuries are characterized by a struggle between Guelphs and Ghibellines (papacy and empire) and a conflictual relationship with the nearby and powerful city of Orvieto.
An important moment for Bagnoregio was in 1457 with a trial against the families of the local lords for their abuses and destroying the fortresses of the Monaldeschi and of the Cervara. You can see signs of this history in the sculptures on the access gate to Civita di Bagnoregio.
But the courage of the citizens was put to the test by the destruction of Civita by the French cannons during 1494 and from 1496 Bagnoregio passed under the direct control of cardinals who appointed local governors.
Originally the two centres had the name of Civita and Rota and only after the earthquake of 1695 did Rota take the name of Bagnorea and change the relative importance of the two centres. The earthquake had its epicenter in Bagnoregio and it was so strong that Viterbo placed posters everywhere invoking the grace of San Valentino and Sant’Ilario.
Because of the landslides and destructive collapses of the bridge and the village, Pope Innocent XII decided to move the cathedral and the bishopric to Bagnoregio and since then began the decline of Civita until 1809 when a law imposed the movement of all citizens from Civita to Bagnoregio for reasons of safety.
More bridges and collapses followed, and to these were added the bombing of the bridge in the Second World War.
The current bridge dates back to 1965 and every year around one million people pass across to the ancient village of Bagnoregio, today transformed into one of the main tourist attractions of central Italy and listed among World Heritage sites of UNESCO.