Civitavecchia: Soak up the warmth of Rome’s cruise ship port

Forte Michelangelo.

Civitavecchia means “old town” in Italian. No kidding. You know all those cruise ships that come out of Italy? The main port is in Civitavecchia – established by Emperor Trajan in the 2nd century A.D. It didn’t look like it does now. The ships were a bit smaller then and there weren’t nearly as many.

But this town 37 miles (60 Kilometers) northwest of Rome remains Italy’s jump off point for cruise ships which transport the highest number of passengers in the Mediterranean. But Civitavecchia is more than just a big port. It has a lovely sea front, great restaurants with views and some hot springs that will be much warmer than the Tyrrhenian Sea.

If you do come to Civitavecchia on a cruise or looking for a day trip from Rome, come here and stick around a while. 

Civitavecchia’s boardwalk.
Embracing Peace statue.
Civitavecchia’s port.
Me (left) and John Robert Tuthill at Ristorante Maa with Forte Michelangelo in the background.

Things to do

1 • Forte Michelangelo. The first thing you do after arriving in Civitavecchia’s conveniently located train station, built in 1859, is head to the sea.

Turn right at the water and it’s a beautiful walk through a line of palm trees to one of the oddest statues in Italy. It’s a 25-foot bronze statue of an American sailor kissing a nurse. It’s a replica of the famous Life magazine cover photo taken in 1945 by Alfred Eisenstaedt in Manhattan at the end of World War II.

Just past the statue, which has toured in the United States, is a massive fortress on the sea. Forte Michelangelo, with giant ramparts on all sides, was commissioned by Pope Julius II in 1535. Michelangelo designed the upper half and it was built to defend Rome’s port. Pope Pius IV added a prison and arsenal, designed by Bernini.

Today it’s a military outpost. It’s not available for tours but worth examining from the outside.

Forte Michelangelo. ©John Robert Tuthill

2 • Roman town. Continue past the castle to the port. You can’t miss it. The biggest boats you’ve ever seen are docked a short ways away. But to the left of the boats you’ll see a round stone structure in the middle of the water.

It’s the remains of the Tower of Lazzaretto, one of four towers that stood as a defense during Ancient Rome. To reach the boats, you must pass a large ancient structure that was the town’s warehouse, the same as in Trajan’s time.

During Ancient Rome, Civitavecchia was prime real estate. After Trajan enlarged the harbor at the start of the 2nd century A.D., many elaborate villas were built nearby for the Roman aristocracy. 

A cafe near Forte Michelangelo

3. Ficoncella Baths. They’re also known as Terme Taurine, or Thermal Baths of Trajan, as these thermal springs are the same as when Trajan was emperor 2,000 years ago. The ancient Etruscans, Rome’s earliest settlers, built the baths and today five natural pools have soothing water between 122-140 degrees Fahrenheit (50-60 Celsius). The therapeutic properties help with such ailments as arthritis, respiratory problems and urinary disease. Also, these sulphurous waters do not have the typical sulfuric odor of rotten eggs. They’re perfect for soaking and talking to people from around the world and locals from the area. 

Info: https://civitavecchia.portmobility.it/it/terme-della-ficoncella

urp@comune.civitavecchia.rm.it, 39-366-632-3146, 39-07-66-590-241. Cost €3. Must bring slippers or flip flops. Dressing areas are minimal and you must change in the bathroom. There are no lockers.B

Ficoncella Baths.

Civitavecchia’s cruise ship industry

They’re back. Cruise ships are back. They are definitely alive and well in Civitavecchia, Italy’s main port for destinations for such places as Tunisia, Barcelona and Sicily.

If you’re doing a Mediterranean cruise that includes Italy, you’ll likely wind up here. After all, 2.1 million cruise ship passengers passed through Civitavecchia in 2022. In 2020 during the height of Italy’s Covid crisis, only 207,000 passengers came to town which makes you wonder why 207,000 would want to take a cruise in 2020.

The city and country breathed a sigh of relief. Italy’s cruise ship industry earns about $450 million a year and cargo is also big business with 2 million tons of cargo shipped out annually. Depending on your viewpoint, the size of giant cruise ships is a sign of adventure or disgust. When my friend, John, and I visited Tuesday, we saw two boats: One was from Swiss-based MSC Cruises with six floors of rooms.

The other was from Tirrenia, the Italian cruise line which features super heroes on their boats. Docked Tuesday, emblazoned on the turquoise paint, was Superman, complete with the Superman log on the smokestack and the outline of Gotham’s skyline. Quipped John: “It looks like the wall of a kindergarten or a first grader’s lunch box.

Where is it:

37 miles (60 kilometers) northwest of Rome.

How to get there: Trains leave Rome’s Termini station every 30 minutes. Price of the 1-hour, 10-minute trip is €4.60

For more information:

Where to eat:

Maa, Lungoport Gramsci 7, 39-320-236-5956, 39-07-66-809-688, www.ristorantemaa.it

maaristorante18@gmail.com.

“Maa” is Hindu for “mother” and the Indian-run seafood restaurant opened five years ago on a plum location. The patio with white-tableclothed tables and big picture windows look out at the sea. Lots of seafood pastas and fresh fish. We recommend the shrimp cocktail in a luscious sauce of mayonnaise, catsup and vodka and the paccheri polpo, guanciale and pecorino: flat, square pasta with octopus, pig’s cheek and pecorino cheese in a rich tomato sauce. Lunch for two with a bottle of Falanghina white wine from Campania was €70.

Mama’s shrimp cocktail.
Paccheri with octopus, pig’s cheek and Pecorino.