You are arriving by ship at the port of Civitavecchia and you have decided that you don’t want to visit Rome. Instead, you want to explore the option of staying in Civitavecchia. When researching shore excursions offered by companies operating out of Civitavecchia, you will soon discover that most want to take you to Rome. You learn that you may be on your own in putting together a shore excursion that focuses on the port and immediate vicinity. Consequently, you begin to research things to do in the port. That leads me to the second thing you will notice; that being there does not appear to be a lot of things to see when compared to other Italian cities you might visit on your cruise. Don’t despair though, there is still enough “to do” items to fill your day and many of them are free. You will even be able to explore the remains of some of the city’s medieval walls and take a walk through history in the oldest part of the city.
The port is located in the Lazio region of Italy and is a little north of Rome. With three cruise terminals and a very long extended arm dock, this bustling port can be fairly busy as a large number of cruise ships can dock here on any given day. You can "possibly" walk or catch a shuttle bus to the main gate. Two things to consider when leaving the ship. The first is that it appears hit and miss if you will be allowed to walk from the ship to the gate (hence my use of the word possibly in quotations). I have seen it done, and indeed, I once walked to the gate from a ship, but it is not particularly scenic, and you have to be cautious around moving vehicles, trucks, forklifts, shipping crates and other obstructions. Depending on the dock you arrive at, it can be a bit of a walk. On our last few visits to this port, people were not permitted to walk to the gate. Port staff were directing people to take the free shuttle buses which are clearly the safest option. Unfortunately, there were not a lot of shuttle buses so getting to the gate via that means could prove to be a slow process.
There is an information kiosk outside of the Largo Della Pace terminal and you can obtain information about the city. This kiosk is fairly small and can be crowded so I urge you to do a little research about the port in advance of your cruise and only pick up city/port maps (free) at the kiosk as waiting to obtain information can take some time on a busy day.
First up is the Fort Michelangelo (Fortezza Michelangelo). The building of the fort began in 1508 under the direction of Pope Julius II. Built in a rectangular shape with large, rounded towers at each corner, this fort was completed around 1538 as a defensive structure designed to protect the port and the city. The military still occupy the building and as such, you can walk around the outside of the fort, but you cannot go inside. During your walk, you will see evidence of extensive renovations but take note of some of the original stonework. Michelangelo is reported to have been involved in the design of the building but because of our inability to have a look inside, the structure is, for the most part, unremarkable from other fortresses you will see. Nevertheless, it is imposing enough to warrant a visit and you can also get a fairly good look at the cruise ships docked in port from the waterfront. You can walk from your ship to the fort but the time it will take you will depend on where your cruise ship docks, your physical condition and whether or not the port personnel are allowing people to make their own way to the fort.
Next up and quite close to the fort, is the National Archaeological Museum which is also located near the port on Largo Cavour (100053 Civitavecchia for app directional coordinates). Initially commissioned around 1762 by Pope Clement XIII, this building has been repurposed from its original function as a papal customs building to that of a museum. At first glance, the building sports a rather unremarkable exterior and cannot be described as ornate or distinctive. Understated, and covering two floors, the museum boasts a good collection of antiquities that have been found in the port and surrounding area. Converted in the 1970’s, the interior of this museum has a modern feel to it and at a cost of €3.00 for an adult and €2.00 for seniors, this is a fairly inexpensive spot to visit.
As those of you who regularly follow my travel blogs know, I am a big fan of churches as that is where the money went, particularly from medieval times to the early 20th century. The larger churches had the population base and could generate the funds to employ the great artisans of the times and their rich interiors are testaments to differing architectural styles and exceptional artistic works. This cathedral has a rich history but had neither an exterior nor interior to match that history. In reality, I found it is beautiful but simple in both construction and overall impression. The reason for that lies in the how the building transitioned over the centuries.
The construction of the Cathedrale de Civitavecchia began a little after 1610 on the site of an older church. In 1769, Pope Clement XIV decided to expand the church and this building project was awarded to Francesco Navone, a renowned architect during that period. According to the information I received at the church, the older 1610 building was completely redone in the 1769 renovation/rebuilding with little retained of the earlier churches. The “new” church was completed in 1782 and officially became a cathedral in 1805.
In 1943, during the second world war, the cathedral sustained damage and was rebuilt in the form we currently see today. This is why, despite its rich history, the cathedral does not have the features one normally sees in medieval or even 18th century churches. The baroque style front makes the cathedral photo worthy. Note, that to enter there are a number of stairs to climb. If you stand at the doorway turn and look out at the city as this is another good photo opportunity. The church was originally dedicated to St. Francis of Assisi and later to Saint Anthony of Padua. You will find statues of both at this location. As you make your way into the cathedral, pay particular attention to the altar facing you as it is both impressive and in my opinion, the best feature of the interior.
I am going to deviate a bit from our look at the sights of Civitavecchia and speak a little about the Weeping Madonna which is located about 7 kilometers (4.3 miles), from the city. I mention this place as when exiting the cathedral, I was asked by a couple of different drivers if I wanted to go and see the Weeping Madonna. The prices quoted varied from 25 - 50 euros return. The story about the Weeping Madonna is a controversial one as the church has remained mute on its position as to the authenticity of the supposed “miracle”. On February 2, 1995, a small statute of the Virgin Mary that belonged to a local family is reported to have cried blood. The parish priest was called and the next evening the statue is reported to have done the same again in front of witnesses. By February 5, the news of the weeping Madonna was a national story. The statue is said to have performed the same tears of blood while in the hands of the local bishop. The statue can now be found in a little church in the nearby town of Pantano. You can actually get there by taking a local bus just steps from the cathedral which renders the 25 - 50 euros quoted to drive there a little on the pricy side. If you take the bus, make sure when you are returning that you verify the return bus is going directly back into the city or you will find yourself on a little country tour.
The Taurine Baths is another possible destination when in the port. Located about 5 kilometers (3.1 miles), outside the city, the Roman baths were built in the first century and are an interesting historical site. The ruins are larger than I had anticipated and give the visitor a fairly good idea of just how structured and organized the Romans were with regard to cleanliness (hot and cold baths, changing rooms etc.) and social structure. You can still see the remains of the mosaic tiles in the various rooms you will visit. The story of how the baths originated is also of interest and tells us how the name “Taurine” came about. A bull (Toro) is reported to have pawed at the ground and the thermal waters sprung forward which led to the building of the baths.
While on the subject of baths, the Terma della Ficoncella is located about 4 kilometers from the port (2.4 miles). These are thermal baths that you can actually bathe in. I did not visit the complex or try out the baths, so my review only provides information based on what I have read and/or have been told. There are a reported 5 natural baths with pools of water that have various temperatures. The present-day facilities are described as being on the small side and somewhat dated. The name of the baths derives from a large nearby fig tree and the baths have been in existence since the times of the Etruscan civilization.
Speaking of the Etruscans, you can always arrange a day trip to visit the underground city of Etruscopolis. This is located in the city of Tarquinia which is 23 kilometers (14 ½ miles), north of the port (on the E840). This fascinating underground city has scenes of daily life of this ancient culture and is well worth a visit.
Back within the city, we find the Fontana del Vanvitelli which was commissioned by Pope Benedict XIV. The fountain was built in 1743 and designed by Luigi Vanvitelli. You can easily walk to the fountain from the fort by walking north along the wall and looking for the curved set of stairs. The fountain represents the head of an old faun. In a land of fabulous fountains and ornate public monuments, this is an understated work of art. It is however a nice stop if you are doing a simple walk around the port city.
You can complete your walk around the port with a stop in the old town area. Look for signs directing you to Piazza Leandra. You can enter the piazza by means of different access points. If you enter via the Piazza Aurelio Saffi, you will be walking through a ninth century gated entry. Once in the square you will be in the oldest part of the city and there are some interesting buildings to see and the fountain, which has now been restored, is in working order. Please note that there is some uneven pavement and walking areas. You can also follow directions to the oldest church in the city which goes by the rather uninviting name of the Church of Death (also known as the Church of Prayer and Death). Built in 1685, this church was built to address the corpses that had been left outside the city walls.
If none of the places listed in this blog interest you, you may want to take one of the food tours or sign up for one of the local cooking classes that are now on offer. As these activities are subject to local restrictions surrounding covid, I recommend you check online in advance of your visit.
If you have any questions or comments about this blog, please feel free to contact me at: firstname.lastname@example.org or leave a comment on this page.
Follow-up comment: One of the people who read the e-mail copy of the blog sent me the following e-mail link. It has a lot of good information and a more detailed description of some of the places I have mentioned.