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Sunday, 23 February 2014

Nature’s Spikes and Spires: The Calanchi Valley, Umbria

Written by Diana G Armstrong
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Out of my window, in the close distance, the hill-top town of Civita di Bagnoregio floats on a soft sea of mist, as if cast off from the valley below.  Umbria the green heart of Italy lies to the north and Rome and the Lazio to the south.  This town of Civita, in front of me, is something of an enigma as it sails away from its past and into its uncertain future. It is called The Dying City as it is gradually shedding parts of itself into the valley 

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“Beware of these mists!” my neighbor, a Lubriano villager, warns me as an aside.

These mists do clear usually by noon and reveal an astonishing sight:

 A valley more steeped in mystery than the ancient hill-top town of Civita di Bagnoregio itself.  Civita is a town that the odd tourist will stop by to see on their way from Rome to Tuscany, but few take time to look at the Calanchi Valley in which it stands as a sentinel and a rock of reminder of its ancient past.

The odd Etruscan tunnel wends its way down from Civita towards the valley floor and towards a beautiful natural outcrop called Monte Leone which looks like a barbican(which it is not) to protect Civita.  

The Calanchi Valley sometimes called The Route of the Gullies is something of a paradox set in the beautiful rolling hills of southern Umbria and very close to Tuscany with is vineyards, olive groves and starched to attention cypress trees welcoming us to villas and to verdant fields laced with flocks of sheep.  Here is the Calanchi, a harsh unsettling valley carved with chalky cliffs. The whole topography looks like it would wash away with one good rainfall, but in fact these cliffs have stood firm since Roman times.  The valley lies between the huge Bagnoregio basaltina quarries which provided the Romans with black stone for monuments in Rome, and the Tiber River. Even today Roman footbridges and ancient Roman paths may be seen in what at first glance appears a wasteland. But these paths will eventually take you to the rich Tiber Valley and the Tiber River, which in Roman times was navigable up to this point.

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Two small streams, the Turbido and the Lubriano trickle down the valley and eventually into the Tiber River some ten miles further down the valley below.  “There are excellent soft shell crabs in the small pale green chalky rivers” my Italian friend tells me. The pale green color of these streams is in fact the same green color of the Tiber as it flows through Rome.

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Last modified on Friday, 28 February 2014

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