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  • aehartman

To Live in a Dying Town

Civita di Bagnoregio

The air is crisp, and the sky is blue. Civita di Bagnoregio sits proudly ahead of me, the two of us separated by an uphill bridge that far too many people have compared to The Great Wall of China.

Civita di Bagnoregio is a hilltop village in central Italy, with only seven permanent residents. That’s right, seven. Why so few, you ask? Well, you see, the village rests a bit precariously upon decaying rock. Although it is sure not to fall tomorrow, it is likely to fall eventually, and that’s enough to drive most people away. If that isn’t enough, the 30-minute walk to the nearest grocery store, since cars can’t reach the village, probably is. Yet, this sense of isolation is precisely responsible for the feeling of tranquility that intensifies with each step on the bridge. After utilizing a train, bus, and taxi to get to this point, the smile on my roommate’s face confirms she’s feeling just as accomplished as I am for finally reaching Italy’s “Jewel on the Hill.”

The bridge to get to Civita di Bagnoregio

My calves start to burn, as the incline of the bridge increases. “It’s okay, we need the exercise,” my roommate jokes sarcastically, knowing we’ve already walked 30,000 steps since the start of the day. Something brushes against my left leg, and despite the fatigue in my muscles, my pace instinctively quickens. I abruptly stop when I realize what touched my leg, or rather, who. Two eyes the color of ripe limes peer up at me, seeming to ask why I’ve stopped walking. The kitten’s fur subtly shines in the sun, somewhere between grey and brown, with black stripes resembling those of a tiger. My roommate loves cats more than I do, and she coos to draw the friendly feline towards her. After a few moments of pets and squirts of hand sanitizer, we continue towards the village, with our new companion following closely behind.

As we walk under an arch and officially enter Civita di Bagnoregio, I feel a sense of wonder that can only be found when exploring something new. Right by the entrance, there is a small gift shop, big enough for a maximum of two people to stand inside. Forward we march, eyes darting from one spot to another. The whole village is constructed with one kind of stone that is a soft shade of brown. Well, the whole village except the church.

The San Donato Church

The San Donato Church sits in the center of the village, indicating the important role of religion at the time this community was created. Its light color and architectural details set the structure apart from its surroundings. We continue to walk, passing doors that seem to lead to homes, but unsure of which are actually inhabited. There are a few restaurants hiding within the ancient architecture, and the scent of pizza softly floats in the air, just noticeable enough to draw in tourists, who are the confirmed target based on the English menus.

Within eight minutes of walking, we reach the end of the village, and I suddenly forget how much effort it took to get here. I don’t realize my mouth is slightly opened in amazement, as I take in the view in front of me. From this hilltop, I see mountains, land, homes, and animals. “You don’t see that every day,” my roommate muses, as she points at a bird. The unique thing about the sight, is we are looking down at the flying animal. Perhaps due to exhaustion, happiness, or the air being thinner, after looking at one another, my roommate and I burst into laughter. “What are we doing here?” I ask as I try to catch my breath from laughing. “Studying abroad,” my roommate answers, and although it is a joke in one way, it’s absolutely true in another. Sometimes studying isn’t just about reading books and taking exams. Sometimes, it’s about navigating public transportation in a foreign language, or hiking to a “dying town,” that is over 2,500 years old. I have learned from both experiences, just in different ways.

Me enjoying the view

After taking photos and spending enough time enjoying the view to ensure it will remain in our minds forever, my roommate and I decide we should go, since the trek back to Rome still lies ahead. As we walk past the “homes” and restaurants, past the church, and past the souvenir shop (where I stop to pick out a postcard), I feel a sense of sadness in leaving. “Can you imagine, being able to live somewhere like this, surrounded by beauty, with no one to prove anything to?” My roommate asks this, more to herself than me, but I answer. “I’m not sure if it’d be freeing or lonely, but I think I know now that happiness can be found anywhere. Even on top of a crumbling hill.” My roommate looks at me and nods, and as if on cue, the cat we met earlier appears. Our furry friend begins walking down the bridge, like a guide showing us the way, and we willingly follow, knowing our time at Civita di Bagnoregio will remain a dear memory for many years to come.

The view from Civita di Bagnoregio

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