Civitavecchia is a historic sea port on the Tyrrhenian Sea, in the province of Rome. Situated in the central region of Lazio, Civitavecchia is approximately 50 kilometres northwest of Rome. It's harbour is a port of call for over 2000 ferries and cruise ships each year, making it one of the busiest ports on the Mediterranean Sea.
Civitavecchia, means "ancient town" and the city was built over a pre-existing Etruscan settlement. The foundations of the original port date back to Roman time. The ancient Roman name of Civitavecchia was originally “Centumcellae”. The first known reference to the name is in a letter by Pliny the Younger in 107AD. The origin of the name is disputed, but it has been suggested that it refers to the centum (hundred) halls of the villa of the emperor.
Remains of the original Centumcellae port founded by Emperor Trajan in the early part of the 2nd century are still standing, and are located inside the modern port facility.
During the Middle Ages Centum Cellae was a Byzantine stronghold that was raided by the Saracens in 828AD. It was later renamed Civitavecchia and became part of the Church State in 1431. At this time to port assumed the role of the Port of Rome and became the base for the Papal fleet.
Towards the end of the fifteenth century, Civitavecchia was pillaged by mercenaries. Pope Julius II commissioned Michelangelo to design a massive fort to protect the harbour. The construction was undertaken by Giuliano Leno and Antonio da Sangallo the Younger. By the time it was finished in 1537, the fortress at Civitavecchia was one of the most important monuments of military architecture in Italy.
Forte Michelangelo, (Michelangelo's Fort in English), Civitavecchia,Italy
Successive Popes continued work on the fortress. Pope Paul III Paul IV, Pius IV and Urban VII all contributed additions and restorations, and finally it was surrounded by walls in 1590.
In 1798, during the French invasion of the Church State, Civitavecchia was occupied. In 1870 the city became part of the Kingdom of Italy.
The massive Forte Michelangelo, in English "Michelangelo's Fort", is a must see. It is one of the most important monuments of military architecture in Italy, with an edifice that measures 100 × 82 metres. There are five tower, four round towers on each corner and the main octagon tower in the middle of the wall facing the ocean. The thickness of the fortress walls ranges from 6 to 7.6 metres. The fortress was built over an ancient Roman construction, probably the barracks of the classiarii ("mariners") of the Imperial Fleet.
Another landmark not to be missed when in Civitavecchia is the Rocca ("castle"). Re-built in the late 15th century by Pope Sixtus IV, and the Palazzo Apostolico was added by Pius IV in the 16th century. The cathedral of San Francesco d'Assisi was built upon the foundation of a pre-existing, smaller church by the Franciscans. The current Baroque-Neoclassical edifice was erected in the eighteenth century.
The Terme Taurine, sometimes refered to as Trajan's Baths, is a well-preserved Roman archaeological complex located a short distance north from Civitavecchia. Build by and first used by the Romans, the baths are still used regularly by modern Civitavecchiesi. The modern name for the baths is La Ficoncella Baths, which is derived from the fig plants among the various pools.
Civitavecchia is where the cruise ships that service all of the passengers visiting Rome dock. There are shuttle bus services that run from Civitavecchia to the eternal city and back again. There are many structures dating back to the earliest days of the port that are still standing and well worth seeing.