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The History
Discover the area
The History
Civitavecchia is, today, the result of a millenary process of civilization and urbanization of the Lazio territory. A territory where, in that same area where this town now rises (situated at only 70 km from Rome), there are significant elements which, through the ages, have overlapped and accumulated to confirm that social groups were present and have evolved as far back as the Prehistoric age. There are, in fact, numerous traces of primitive settlements which, for example, can be found on the Civitavecchia coastline: just as numerous and important are all those Etruscan, Roman, and Medieval structures that have made the town such an important urban center that, ever since the times of the ancient Urbe, it has been known as the Port of Rome.


Civitavecchia is the heir to the roman Centumcellae, built during the period 107-108 D.C., by order of Traiano, in the same territory of Aquae Tauri, together with the port. The town and the port were born in symbiosis, one connected to the other, this was also because the purpose of this enormous initiative undertaken by Traiano, was to provide Rome with a fully equipped port to subsidize that already expanded by Traiano himself at the mouth of the Tiber river.
In fact, the port of Centumcellae was starting to be used by an increasing number of ships on their route towards the West. The town grew rapidly, which was detrimental to the other two Roman centers in that area: the Etruscan municipality of Aquae Tauri and the sea colony of Castrum Novum.When work was complete to accommodate the town area of Centumcellae, the Thermal Baths were built approximately 1 km from the small town of Aquae Tauri on the hill of Ficoncella; Thermal Baths were very popular in the Imperial age.
Centumcellae reached its maximum splendor in the Imperial age; in the year 314 AC it became an Episcopate until the period between the years 537 and 538 AC when the town was occupied by the Byzantine, after which, in the VIII century, it fell under the more subdued reign of the popes. Conquered in the year 828 by the Saracens, it was transformed into a military base against Rome.At this point, Leone IV helped the refugees of this town to rebuild their small center on the nearby mountains and named it Leopoli, and then later Cencelle, in memory of the ancient Centocelle. Only when the Saracens abandoned the coast could the people of Leopoli return to their original town (889 AC) which, from that moment on, became known as Civita Vetula (Civitavecchia).The town's coat of arms still preserves the memory of that decision made by the inhabitants, in the shade of an oak tree, to follow the excellent advice of one called Leandro and return; to this date there is a square dedicated to this person in the center of the medieval sector. Subsequently the town was dominated by the Counts of Civita Castellana, by the monastery of Farfa and above all, starting from the year 1167, by the prefects of Vico to whom it remained subjected until 1432, the year in which it became part of the Pontifical State, with its own citizens' constitution. The Popes' temporarily lost Civitavecchia during the French rule (1798-1815), and completely lost it on 16 September 1870.
Unfortunately, during the second war conflict, most of the monuments in Civitavecchia were seriously damaged; in fact, the town now does not have any of its numerous ancient monumental buildings; on of these was also the impressive Fort Michelangelo, which was also partially destroyed and rebuilt in the late 1950's.The entry of Civitavecchia as part of the Pontifical State induced the pontiffs to restore its port and wall defenses. The Uffizi still preserves the drawings used by the architect "Antonio da Sangallo il Giovane" (the Young Anthony of Sangallo) to outline the new town fencing; after the papal visit in 1515, Leonardo da Vinci also visited the town in order to be able to draw the buildings and archeological referrals which existed at that time, before they were destroyed in the construction of the walls.
This great piece of work, designed to protect the port by land, was destined to continue even after the death of Sangallo, until mid-century.
In 1535 Michelangelo had terminated the construction of the fortress and enormous octagonal donjon, adorned with the coat of arms of Pope Paolo III Farnese. In the XVII century Civitavecchia had therefore re-conquered its role as the port of Rome, however the interest shown in that stretch of sea was still not accompanied by an equal interest in embellishing the living area; it is believed that in that period a group of civilian buildings, lined up in a orderly manner, were the homes of fishermen and soldiers, a sort of garrison detached from Rome, as in the Traianean era.Together with the continuous maintenance of the port, the XVII century also saw, for the first time, a real interest in developing the urban surroundings; during the long pontifical reign of Urbano VIII, which was threatened by new sea raids, a battlement was built (1634) which currently blocks the view over the Pier Tommaso quay, while the church of S. Francesco, which faces the current Victorio Emanuele II square, dates back to mid-century.In 1659 Alessandro VII decreed the building of a military arsenal and commissioned it from Gian Lorenzo Bernini, whose projects are still preserved. The Quartierone area was built in 1776 for the papal garrisons assigned to the town.Some of the surviving monumental buildings were built between the seventeenth century and halfway through the eighteenth: one of these is the church of Santa Maria Dell'Orazione e Morte, with its elegant elliptical shape and its dome which was painted in 1788 by Giuseppe Errante; another is the breathtaking fountain by Vanvitelli which leans up against the Urbano VIII battlement; the building that houses the museum in Largo Plebiscito dates back to the eighteenth century. All these monuments can be admired today at Civitavecchia, others still could have been admired if they had not been destroyed during the two great wars that left their mark on this town.
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