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 action-packed, has a huge cast of characters, and begins with a map.
Ever since its publication, Stevenson’s map has had readers asking, “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, navigate the unknown and avoid the dangerous. They can make unreal place seem real, and real places more manageable.
In Civita di Bagnoregio, for many reasons it’s very easy to believe 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 you’ve spent some time navigating back and forth between the two, it quickly becomes clear 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 day-to-day life as well, which can be easy to overlook. During my two months there, I often watched tourists come into 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—merchants, masons and carpenters, cooks, priests, and seismic workers— living out their daily lives.
I wanted people to notice. So I decided to create a treasure map of the city. I knew that I wanted to unite Civita and Bagnoregio once again and to include everyday treasures as well as historic ones because taken together, all seemed necessary to feed a traveler’s body and soul.
Can strangers use this map to navigate Civita’s numerous treasures? Absolutely. All the information about historic, architectural, and natural wonders is there. Everything mentioned is open to the public. But interspersed are also some personal treasures, which befits a casual, fun map like this one— my favorite spot for affogato, which ATM wouldn’t reject my card, and the gatto who decided he was mine for two months. Because in the end, what we each decide to include on the treasure maps of our lives will always be as personal as the places we visit and the experiences we have there.