History of Civitavecchia


See Civitavecchia guide for highlights and historic monuments

The ancient name of Civitavecchia was “Centumcellae”, a port with many warehouses the foundation of which dates back to 107 AD. at the behest of Trajan (53-117 AD).

Origins of the original name Centumcellae

The Latin name “Centumcellae” was referred to by Pliny the Younger (61-112 AD) who wrote of a place where great works were underway for the construction of the port, near the villa of Emperor Trajan.

There have been many hypotheses to explain the origin of the name “Centumcellae”; some scholars believe that it refers to the number of natural creeks that were present on the coast, and others to the hundred rooms of the Trajan Villa.

In 828, after the destructive invasion by the Saracens, the population left the centre, first taking refuge in the mountains, then in a new site called “Cencelle”, until finally returning to the city in 889, changing its name in “Civitas Vetula” (“Old Town”) to distinguish it from “Cencelle”.

Civitavecchia became part of the Church State in 1431, when it assumed the role of the Rome port and the Papal fleet basis. The fortifications of the port and arsenal date from that time,

It is surrounded by walls built in 1590 by Urban VII (1521-1590), restored by Pope Paul IV (1476-1559) and Pius IV (1499-1565). The fortress was designed by Michelangelo (1475-1574), and it was executed by Sangallo (1484-1546), who made it one of the most important monuments of military architecture in Italy.

The arsenal was built to a design by Bramante (1444-1514) while the aqueduct, built by Trajan, and rebuilt by Innocent XII (1615-1700), is about 30 km long with three galleries. The tower of the fortress, of octagonal shape, is a work by Michelangelo, started in 1512 under Julius II (1443-1513), and finished under Paul III (1468-1549). The foundations of the port date back to Roman time, and the entrance is defended by three towers.

In 1798, with the French invasion of the Church State, Civitavecchia was occupied, and then it entered the Kingdom of Italy in 1870.

See the Civitavecchia travel guide for visitor information.