As It Happens

UNESCO stamp of approval could give Italy's 'dying town' a fresh start, says resident

Civita may be known as "the dying town", but local chef and resident Maurizio Rocchi says the tiny medieval town perched high on a cliff still has a lot of life left to give. Italy has nominated the town and surrounding area, approximately 100 kilometres from Rome, to be a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Italy has nominated the tiny village of a dozen people to be a World Heritage Site

Civita, accessible only by a bridge, is known as 'the dying town' due its susceptibility to erosion and landslides. (Guglielmo Mangiapane/Reuters)

Civita may be known as "the dying town," but local chef and resident Maurizio Rocchi says the tiny medieval community perched high on a cliff still has a lot of life left to give. 

To prove it, Italy has nominated the town and surrounding area, approximately 100 kilometres from Rome, to be a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Site. 

"I think that Civita today is having like a second life," Rocchi, the owner and chef at local restaurant Alma Civita, told As It Happens host Carol Off. 

'Island' on a hill 

Civita only has about 12 permanent residents. That number fluctuates to 14 depending on the season. There are about 40 houses, mostly from the medieval period. 

"Our village is like an island in the middle of an incredible valley," Rocchi said.

It used to be much larger. Centuries ago, it was connected to other towns by roads. But over three millennia, earthquakes, erosion, and landslides left it alone atop a cliff.

"Every year we have a lot of landslides," Rocchi said. "And then, with this natural erosion, I mean, it's very difficult to stop it." 

A child runs towards the entrance to the town of Civita. (Guglielmo Mangiapane/Reuters)

Because of that, it is now only accessible by a long, steep pedestrian bridge. Steel bars in underground caverns hold walls together. In total, the town measures 152 by 91 metres. 

"Our motto is 'resilience' because Civita was founded by the Etruscans, passed through the Roman era and the entire medieval period to reach the present day," Luca Profili, the mayor of Bagnoregio, of which Civita is a part, told Reuters. 

Maurizio Rocchi spent his childhood summers in Civita, then opened up his restuarant in his family's home. He says Civita is still full of life, even though it's called the dying town. (Submitted by Maurizio Rocchi)

Rocchi's family has been in Civita for about 500 years, he said. His grandparents lived in the town, and he spent summers there as a child.

About a decade ago he moved into his family's home and converted it into a restaurant. 

What Civita lacks in size, Rocchi says it makes up in charm. Especially since COVID-19 restrictions have shut down tourism. 

"It's really, really beautiful," he said. "Not for the business, of course, but it's like Civita like it was years ago."

Maurizio Rocchi's restaurant, Alma Civita (Submitted by Maurizio Rocchi)

Even though he is one of only a dozen full-time residents, Rocchi says he's anything but lonely. 

"Most of my friends love … to come up here and join a glass of wine together and just sit in front of this unique place, you know, so I can tell you sometimes it's hard to be alone." 

While Rocchi is enjoying his tourist-free town, he says he looks forward to welcoming people back into his restaurant.  And he's hoping a UNESCO World Heritage designation would mean they could finally change Civita's "dying town" slogan. 

"Maybe it will help the administration ... find the best way to save our village," he said. 

Written by Sarah Jackson with files from Reuters. Interview with Maurizio Rocchi produced by Chris Trowbridge. 

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