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Photos: Visit a crumbling medieval town that’s slowly falling off a cliff

There is something oddly attractive about a place slated to disappear, and at first glance, Civita di Bagnoregio is just that: a charming medieval town in central Italy that, thanks to its geology, has been slowly crumbling for thousands of years.

The Etruscans chose the site for its high ground in the 6th century B.C., but much of that ground has since fallen away. Civita di Bagnoregio is built on what’s known as “tuff,” volcanic rock over a bed of soft clay and sand. And in a region prone to earthquakes — including a massive one in 1695 that devastated the town — that combination, plus a healthy amount of rain, have accelerated the landslides that have now robbed Civita di Bagnoregio of 20 percent of its terrain since 1705. Today there are only around seven year-round residents and many of its buildings have been lost.

But in 2015 that’s an idea drawing tourists; since 2010, the number of people making the difficult hike up the footbridge has risen from 40,000 a year to 500,000. New restaurants, tourist shops and bed and breakfasts have opened, and locals have a reason to stick around, or in many cases, to return, giving them hope that the wonder and beauty of their town will be enough to sustain it many years into the future.

Coupled with some massive geo-engineering efforts, that may be true. See below for a collection of photos from what locals call “il paese che muore,” or “the dying town.”

Tourists and residents access Civita di Bagnoregio by way of a steep footbridge. But earlier this year there was a collapse near its base that now needs shoring up. Photo by Frank Carlson

Tourists and residents access Civita di Bagnoregio by way of a steep footbridge. But earlier this year there was a collapse near its base that now needs shoring up. Photo by Frank Carlson

No cars are allowed in Civita di Bagnoregio due to the fragile nature of the landscape, so a man on a motorcycle must suffice for a garbage truck. Photo by Frank Carlson

No cars are allowed in Civita di Bagnoregio due to the fragile nature of the landscape, so a man on a motorcycle must suffice for a garbage truck. Photo by Frank Carlson

A pair of doors in Civita di Bagnoregio, a small town in Central Italy that dates back 2500 years. Photo by Frank Carlson

A pair of doors in Civita di Bagnoregio, a small town in central Italy that dates back 2,500 years. Photo by Frank Carlson

For hundreds and even thousands of years, the town of Civita di Bagnoregio has been gradually falling apart due to landslides. Here a gate prevents tourists from descending a staircase that leads off a cliff. Photo by Frank Carlson

For hundreds and even thousands of years, the town of Civita di Bagnoregio has been gradually falling apart due to landslides. Here, a gate prevents tourists from descending a staircase that leads off a cliff. Photo by Frank Carlson

Some 20 percent of Civita di Bagnoregio’s land has been lost since 1705, most of it gardens and agricultural lands. But buildings have also been lost, like this one, now a mere facade. Photo by Frank Carlson

Some 20 percent of Civita di Bagnoregio’s land has been lost since 1705, most of it gardens and agricultural lands. But buildings have also been lost, like this one, now a mere facade. Photo by Frank Carlson

Civita di Bagnoregio, known as the “dying town,” is a small hilltop community in the Lazio province of Central Italy. Photo by Frank Carlson

Civita di Bagnoregio, known as the “dying town,” is a small hilltop community in the Lazio province of central Italy. Photo by Frank Carlson

Civita di Bagnoregio is surrounded by agricultural lands, including olive groves, and for centuries this served as the principal means of employment. Photo by Frank Carlson

Civita di Bagnoregio is surrounded by agricultural lands, including olive groves, and for centuries this served as the principal means of employment. Photo by Frank Carlson

Tourism is booming in the town of Civita di Bagnoregio, rising from 40,000 a year to 500,000 a year since 2010. This year the town of Bagnoregio began charging visitors about $1.70 to enter. Photo by Frank Carlson

Tourism is booming in the town of Civita di Bagnoregio, rising from 40,000 a year to 500,000 a year since 2010. This year the town of Bagnoregio began charging visitors about $1.70 to enter. Photo by Frank Carlson

Tourists arrive at the main square of Civita di Bagnoregio, where the San Donato church sits. Photo by Frank Carlson

Tourists arrive at the main square of Civita di Bagnoregio, where the San Donato church sits. Photo by Frank Carlson

Chef Maurizio Rocchi shows off one his family recipes, featuring bacon, egg yolk and black truffle flakes. He is one of the few year-round residents here, and has opened a new restaurant, the Alma Civita, to capitalize on the growth in tourism. Photo by Frank Carlson

Chef Maurizio Rocchi shows off one his family recipes, featuring bacon, egg yolk and black truffle flakes. He is one of the few year-round residents here and has opened a new restaurant, the Alma Civita, to capitalize on the growth in tourism. Photo by Frank Carlson

A worker takes a cigarette break outside the Alma Civita restaurant. Photo by Frank Carlson

A worker takes a cigarette break outside the Alma Civita restaurant. Photo by Frank Carlson

American architect Tony Heywood first came to Civita di Bagnoregio with his wife, Astra Zarina, in the 1960s. Zarina was also an architect and University of Washington professor who brought American students here to study, helping to popularize and restore the town. Photo by Frank Carlson

American architect Tony Heywood first came to Civita di Bagnoregio with his wife, Astra Zarina, in the 1960s. Zarina was also an architect and University of Washington professor who brought American students here to study, helping to popularize and restore the town. Photo by Frank Carlson

A photo of Tony Heywood and his wife, Astra Zarina, in Heywood’s home in Civita di Bagnoregio. Photo by Frank Carlson

A photo of Tony Heywood and his wife, Astra Zarina, in Heywood’s home in Civita di Bagnoregio. Photo by Frank Carlson

A look at the southside of Civita di Bagnoregio from the path below reveals the encroachment of landslides on the town. Photo by Frank Carlson

A look at the southside of Civita di Bagnoregio from the path below reveals the encroachment of landslides on the town. Photo by Frank Carlson

A cave underneath Civita di Bagnoregio houses an old chapel and may have been used as a tomb during the Etruscan era. Photo by Frank Carlson

A cave underneath Civita di Bagnoregio houses an old chapel and may have been used as a tomb during the Etruscan era. Photo by Frank Carlson

Sunlight fades as a woman enters Civita di Bagnorio from the footbridge as others leave for the day. Photo by Frank Carlson

Sunlight fades as a woman enters Civita di Bagnorio from the footbridge as others leave for the day. Photo by Frank Carlson

In the evening Civita di Bagnoregio clears out, leaving it to a few tourists who stay at bed and breakfasts and the year-round residents. Photo by Frank Carlson

In the evening Civita di Bagnoregio clears out, leaving it to a few tourists who stay at bed and breakfasts and the year-round residents. Photo by Frank Carlson

A building on the north side has fallen apart as the land below fell away. This portion of the town has now been stabilized using massive steel shafts that hold the hilltop together. Photo by Frank Carlson

A building on the north side has fallen apart as the land below it fell away. This portion of the town has now been stabilized using massive steel shafts that hold the hilltop together. Photo by Frank Carlson

At dusk tourists leave the main square, passing the San Donato church on their way out. Photo by Frank Carlson

At dusk tourists leave the main square, passing the San Donato church on their way out. Photo by Frank Carlson

With tourists gone, Civita di Bagnoregio’s many cats reclaim the streets. Photo by Frank Carlson

With tourists gone, Civita di Bagnoregio’s many cats reclaim the streets. Photo by Frank Carlson

Tourists linger in Civita di Bagnoregio as the sun goes down. Photo by Frank Carlson

Tourists linger in Civita di Bagnoregio as the sun goes down. Photo by Frank Carlson

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