Timelines are a staple of exhibit design, providing a way for viewers to grasp a condensed glimpse of what usually is a huge body of information. Mounting an exhibition without a timeline is akin to leaving out the donor wall. To provide context for the series of maps of Civita di Bagnoregio, I offer this visual time-map. Click on this link (or the image below) to view an interactive Prezi of Civita’s 3000 year history.
Here in Civita, time stretches far into the distant past. Pre-history begins 2 million years ago when the tufo that is this region’s primary building material was formed during the Pleistocene age. The site itself has been continuously inhabited for over 2,500 years, first by the Etruscans, then the Romans.
“Civita” simply means “town” and in central Italy, you will often see it appended to the name of various places, such as Civita Castellana and Civitavecchia outside Rome. But in early usage, the word, derived from the Latin civitas, designated the oldest and most built up area in order to distinguish it from neighboring villages. If a location was called “civita,” the designation meant that it was a place of some importance.
In the Middle Ages and Renaissance, Civita looked much the same as it does today. A saddle of land connected present-day Civita to Bagnoregio (known then as Rota) with the Convento di S Francisco occupying the middle ground before it was lost to an earthquake. Together, the population numbered close to 1,800 citizens. Starting in 1695 and continuing for over 100 years, the city endured a series of devastating earthquakes, landslides, locust infestations, and malaria. By 1800, more than 40% of Civita’s land mass had been lost. Although the rate at which the city continues to crumble is glacial, the process continues through to today. “The clay soil here falls away like fresh ricotta,” says Erino Pompei, the mayor of Bagnoregio until 2009, whose name bears an eerie resemblance to another lost Italian town.