This summer, July 2019, I went for a wander round Civitavecchia. The Italian port city is a big hub for cruise ships, both as a gateway to Rome and as an embarkation point. There are many options for organised or independent excursions from Civitavecchia, mainly into Rome. I’ve been to Rome before, its amazing, but on a boiling hot day in the middle of a run of shore days I decided to have a rest instead. Late morning, slightly regretting my decision to ‘skip Rome’, I became restless aboard Royal Caribbean’s Independence of the Seas and decided to go and have a look at Civitavecchia.
Getting out of the Port
Free shuttle buses are provided from the quayside to a central hub at Largo della Pace outside the port gates. It’s worth checking on your return journey that you are getting on the correct shuttle bus for your ship, there are separate lines and buses for each. I was told the port authorities do not want you walking around the port, which is a shame as the buses drive right past the Forte Michelangelo, which is pretty central. and back out to shuttle bus stop at the edge of town. My sister walked directly from town back to the ship. No one stopped her.
At the shuttle bus stop there are signs to the town centre and the station. I dropped a pin on the map on my phone before I started walking to make sure I could find the shuttle stop again. The streets were dusty and crammed with parked cars. The buildings were the post WWII mix of 1960s architecture and ancient cream stone. There were small tourist shops and supermarkets and I stopped and bought a cold bottle of water. It was scorching hot and I really wanted to get away from the airless streets back towards the sea. After a few minutes I noticed some steps leading back in the direction of the port and escaped.
Back in the port
The steps lead through a very impressive archway commemorating a Pope and I found myself back in the port. I got some nice, if distant photos of Independence of the Seas, along with Vision of the Seas and Celebrity Infinity who were all parked in a neat row. There was a beautiful sailing ship there that day and a mega yacht of the type that you see all over the Med during the summer.
Civitavecchia is the main port for ferries to Sardinia. The Tirranea ferries are quite spectacularly decorated with either Superheroes, such as Batman and Superman, or Looney Tunes cartoon characters, such as Sylvester and Tweetie Pie. They are all different, and I spotted several coming and going that day. They are quite the sight to behold and such a fun idea. One day I will return and take one of these ferries to see what they are like inside.
Historical Civitavecchia and the Forte Michelangelo
The harbour of the port of Civitavecchia was founded in the second century AD and it remains the main port serving Italy’s capital city, Rome. Like so much of Italy there are ancient relics all over the place. I spotted a plaque in Latin dedicated to Pope Urban VIII (1568-1644) on one of the harbour walls that he had had built. Next to this Pope Gregory XIII (1502-1585), who expanded the port to allow access to Rome for pilgrims from France and Spain, was commemorated on a crumbling coat of arms damaged in WWII.
The main historical feature of Civitavecchia is the giant Forte Michelangelo at the edge of the port. The fort which was completed in 1535 was commissioned by Pope Julius II to defend the harbour from pirates. It is a large square stone structure with four corner pillars and one central pillar. The central pillar was allegedly designed by renaissance artist, Michelangelo, after whom the fort was named. On the day I visited it was surrounded by temporary metal fences. There must have been a way in but I did not find it. I decided to forgo history and press on and find McDonalds to annoy my niece and nephew who had refused to leave the boat and explore with me.
Beach and train station area
Back in the centre of Civitavecchia, beyond the Forte Michelangelo, is a new boardwalk marina area, overlooking a small beach. There are cafes, generic souvenir shops and hidden in an old stone building is the camouflaged and busy McDonalds. A pier leads out into the sea and I walked to the end where there was a welcome sea breeze and a good view of the fort.
The train station for connections into Rome is located behind this seafront road officially named Viale Giuseppe Garibaldi. Trains to Rome take about 47mins direct to St Peters Square. I saw many mobile souvenir salesmen in this part of town, selling everything from hats and sunglasses to transformer toys to African style wood carvings. One persistent man showed me a video of his baby in Eritrea and I parted with €10 for some elasticated bracelets.
Hot and tired I turned back and walked past Civitavecchia cathedral, dedicated to St Francis of Assisi, to the shuttle bus stop and then the ship.
Worth a wander?
If, like me, you have free time in Civitavecchia it might be worth taking an hour or two to stretch your legs and wander round. Cruise ships tend to arrive early and leave late to allow for maximum time in Rome so I was in no rush on my expedition. There are shops in which to stock up on essentials as well as numerous but unimaginative souvenirs. Anyone bored of cruise food could visit a local restaurant, the crew always seem to make a beeline for McDonalds.
Italy is always amazing in terms of ancient monuments and historical relics. Even though Civitavecchia’s haul is nothing special it is fun to bump into a statue of a Pope here or a giant baroque fortress there.
I love to take photos of ships and the best place I found to do so was from the deck of Independence of the Seas. There are usually multiple cruise ships in port plus the Tirranea ferries so plenty to see. I also took a few good shots from the shuttle bus and and from a raised promenade area in town overlooking the harbour.
Did I have some FOMO after skipping Rome? Yes. Did I enjoy Naples all the more the next day after having a rest? Also yes.
I have wandered around other places, such as Southampton, click the link to head to that post.