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Civitavecchia is an important port town on the coast of western Italy to the north-west of Rome. The town is best known as a departure point for ferries to destinations in the Mediterranean including Sicily, Sardinia and Barcelona, and a stopping point for cruise ships so their passengers can visit Rome.
While not considered to be a tourist destination itself, Civitavecchia does have some sights of interest if you find yourself with an hour or two to spare before catching your ferry.
Explore Civitavecchia: ferries, travel and tourism
For visitors the most important monument here, and a good place to start your visit, is the Michelangelo Fort.
The fort was originally built to defend the port, which at at that time was an important communication centre for Rome. Work on the fortress, which was designed by Bramante, the architect of confidence of the pope, began on 14 December 1508 and work proceded well for the first few years.
Some political difficulties then delayed the completion of the monument and eventually, with the central tower still to be completed, the task was entrusted to Michelangelo Buonarroti, who was able to merge the part he added with the existing building.
On April 23, 1535, the pope was in Civitavecchia and he had the satisfaction of finally seeing the finished fort, which is one of the largest from that era with sides that measure 100 meters and 82 metres. The octagonal tower measures 13 metres on each side, and the walls are up to 7.6 metres thick (slightly less on the sea facing sections).
The main tower, designed by Michelangelo, is decorated towards the top with an elaborate cornice below which you can see the lilies, which were the emblem of the Farnese.
A characteristic of this tower is that in an emergency it could be isolated from the rest of the fortress, allowing a more effective defence.
Archaeological museum of Civitavecchia
The Archaeological museum of Civitavecchia is located in an 18th century building by Clement XIII (1693-1769). Here you can see some finds from the original city of “Centumcellae” (see history of Civitavecchia) and from the surrounding areas.
The museum spans three floors and includes a statue of Apollo from the excavation of the Villa Simonetti, the alleged residence of the jurist Ulpian (170-223), and a replica of the “Athena Parthenos” by Phidias. From the area of “Santa Marinella” there are two limestone slabs with battle scenes of “Castrum Novum”, dating from the first century AD.
Cathedral Church of St. Francis
The Cathedral Church of St. Francis in Civitavecchia, dedicated to St. Francis of Assisi, stands in the main square of Civitavecchia.
The current church was built in the 18th century on the site of an earlier church, which was enlarged after 1769 when Cardinal Lorenzo Ganganelli became Pope Clement XIV. The architect Francesco Navona directed the work.
There is a single aisle, tall and long and an arch that separates it from the chancel, where the great marble altar stands.
The paintings in the cathedral chapels are not of great importance but the bells have historic significance because they were built with metal from two guns specially gifted by the Pope for the purpose.
In 1805, the Church of St. Francis became the cathedral of the Diocese of Civitavecchia.
Churches of Civitavecchia
There are several other churches of interest in Civitavecchia. Among these is the interesting Church of the Prayer of Death. This small church has a Greek cross form with simple architectural lines. The Brotherhood of Death is an ancient and venerable institution which has existed since the late 16th century.
You can see the Church of Our Lady of Grace in Piazza Leandra. This is one of the oldest churches in Civitavecchia, and the seat of the Banner Brotherhood - the ancient Society of the Banner originated in 1274 in Civitavecchia. The brotherhood enlarged and embellished the church after they obtained it in 1688. Inside, as well as precious ornaments, there is a wooden statue of the Virgin Mary.
The Church of the Most Holy Martyrs of Japan was built in 1864 at the end of the Viale della Vittoria. It is dedicated to Saint Pierre and his 25 companions who were martyred in Nagasaki on February 5 1597. The church was entirely rebuilt after the war, and has been greatly embellished with frescos by the famous Japanese painter Lucas Hasegawa.
Roman Civitavecchia - or 'how to take a Roman bath'
For those who love antiquities we recommend a visit to the so-called “Terme Taurine”, a Roman archaeological site which is within walking distance of Civitavecchia. In the 1st century BC, in the Republican age, the Romans built these works of outstanding architectural value.
The buildings were divided into two types: those dedicated to the baths and those where they carried out other related activities such as meetings or therapeutic massage. The baths complex is accessed through a rectangular 'peristylium' to the left of which were small spaces, called “cubicula” (hence 'cubicles), where they rested after a bath or healing treatments. It is here that some mosaic floors have been uncovered.
Near the “cubicula” there were two “exedrae”, presumably equipped with a semicircular apse and seats, where visitors could sit and talk in the shelter of cool air currents. You then come to the typical area of the baths, the “tepidarium”, the place where visitors are acclimatized before entering the “laconicum” or “sudatorium”. These are circular and originally covered by a dome. It was here that the thermal waters were allowed to reach the highest temperatures.
From the “laconicum”, via a corridor, visitors came first to a latrine, then two rooms which were called the “apodyterium” or dressing room. In each of these two rooms was a bathtub, the largest of which, with a mosaic floor, was in communication with the tank of the steam bath. This environment was intended to provide a warm bath and it had a structure of a basilica, with two rows of columns dividing it into three aisles.
Above it there was a terrace / covered pavilion with a fine marble floor. The “calidarium” was fed by the thermal waters, carried through a lead pipe, and the pool depth was about 1.20 meters. The entire area was richly decorated with marble facings, stucco and Ionic capitals.
After visiting the “thermae” and monuments allow time to give a little attention to the culinary traditions of Civitavecchia, which boasts many recipes known throughout Italy. The cuisine here is largely linked to the fishing activities and the recipes are mostly local seafood.
One of the traditional dishes known nationally is the excellent "Pizza Easter", a typical Easter cake, while also definitely worth tasting is the famous local fish soup.
Where is Civitavecchia?
You can find more local travel ideas in the Rome - Lazio guide.