In 1883, Robert Louis Stevenson published a fictional tale of adventure about an expedition to an unnamed Caribbean island to recover a treasure that had been buried there. Treasure Island is considered one of the first adventure stories written specifically for adolescents without an obvious emphasis on teaching morals. It’s action-packed, has a huge cast of characters, and begins with a map. And the map has a backstory.

It begins in Scotland, in 1881 on a rainy summer day. A twelve-year old boy is daydreaming and begins drawing a map of an island. His stepfather finishes it, adds names, and writes in the upper right hand corner, “Treasure Island”. That stepfather was Robert Louis Stevenson and his stepson’s map inspired his novel. Unfortunately, when Stevenson sent his manuscript to his publisher, the map went missing and it was never found. He created another map for publication, “but somehow,” he wrote,” it was never really ‘Treasure Island’ to me.”

Since its publication, Stevenson’s map has had readers asking the question, “Where is Treasure Island?” even when they are told it is an imaginary island that doesn’t exist. How could they not? Maps are guides. We trust them. We look to them to help us find what is desirable, help us navigate the unknown, and sometimes avoid the dangerous.They can make unreal place seem real, and real place more manageable.

It’s easy, here in Civita di Bagnoregio, to imagine that you are in an imaginary place. The backstory that is history here is sometimes so deep, so hard to comprehend in real time, that it begins to feel unreal. Once, the twin cities of Civita and Bagnoregio were a single city, along with a lively merchant neighborhood between which has since totally disappeared, swallowed up by landslides. Now they are separated by a deep chasm, and joined only by a narrow footbridge. Very few maps unite the two again, but when one has spend some time in Civita, it becomes evident that one could not exist without the other. Civita is why the tourists come, and Bagnoregio thrives, in part, to serve those visitors.

But Civita also has a present life as well as a past which can sometimes be easy to overlook. I’ve watched tourists come into the town, snap a few pictures, and be on their way back out in an hour. They pay little attention to the richness of history here, and zero attention to the fact that there are “real” people here living out their daily lives—merchants, masons and carpenters, cooks, priests, and seismic workers.

Taken together, Civita’s treasures are numerous. Some are historic, some architectural, some natural. When I decided to create a treasure map of the city, I knew that I wanted to include everyday treasures as well as historic ones. Together they feed the body and the soul and here in Italy, both are necessary to sooth a weary traveler.

In some ways, every map is a “treasure” map, every place a “Treasure Island” and what we each decide to include on the treasure maps in our lives will always be as personal as the places we visit and the experiences we have. Everyone will have their own list. Right now, I’m enjoying putting mine together for Civita.

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