After the various looting, fire and massacres to which the city was subjected towards the end of the 1400s, under the continuous threat of pirates that infested our seas, Giulio II della Rovere
, who became Pope in 1503 and was particularly aware of the need to provide an efficient means by which to defend the port of Civitavecchia, decided to arm the city with a fortress which, apart from defending the port, a key factor for communicating with Rome, would also ensure tranquility for its citizens who, to escape from enemy invasion, were forced to find refuge on the nearby mountains.
The work was supervised by the Bramante
who, after his death on 11 March 1514, never had the satisfaction of seeing it completed.
The work continued under the direction of his two pupils Giuliano Leno
and Antonio da Sangallo
The fortress was completed in 1535
under the pontifical reign of another great Pope, Paul III of Farnese, the great benefactor of the arts.
The upper part of the Donjon still had to be completed and the task was assigned to the great Michelangelo
Fort Michelangelo is amongst the most vast ever built in those times.
It is of quadrilateral shape with four turrets on top and an octagonal shaped donjon; the walls are covered in travertine, with a surrounding mote which today has disappeared, however the filling hides underneath the entire clod above which the escarpment is slightly inclined.
Upwards the walls are steep once more and towards the top there is an indefinite cornice supported by classic brackets.
The walls are crowned with parapets with more or less large openings depending on their use: whether for arquebus or cannons.
The Fort may have been completely isolated from the rest of the fortress in order to concentrate maximum defenses.
The ancient entrance opened between the donjon and the tower on the west side; the old bronze chain pulley, which served to lift and lower the drawbridge, is still visible; on the side jamb the words "LEAVE YOUR WEAPONS
" are still carved there.
The four bastions are called: San Colombano, Santa Ferma, San Sebastiano and San Giovanni.
The tower of San Sebastiano also has an underground corridor that was used to secretly exit the fortress.
It is presumed that it emerged from inside the city walls city.
In the Santa Ferma tower, which was once in direct contact with the sea, there is a small chapel which has always existed there, in honor of the Patron Saint of the city.
The fortress extends entirely above a large Roman building of imperial times, maybe a barracks for the "classiari" detached here for the needs of the fleet or the port of Traiano.
The building, which was partially unexplored, revealed a large room where a beautiful floor in geometric mosaics was almost totally preserved.
When, in 1630, port duty was reinstated, it became necessary to separate the port itself from the city. Urbano VIII
therefore had a wall built which still exists
today and which also went to complete the city's defensive system which, towards the sea, was in fact lacking. Paul V had already examined the problem, which appeared
serious due to possible sudden landing by enemy troupes, in an area that was too far from the fortress and therefore not reachable by battery fire.
To confront this danger, even after the wall was built, a study was carried out on various types of expedients and in particular, to make the port safe from night
time attacks, a blocking system was arranged at the entrance to the port, using nets, wooden beam and chains anchored to the bastions at the end of the docks.
The wall was covered with the remains of those ancient buildings which surrounded the Trajanic port.
The original walls built in "opus reticolatum" are still visible inside the rooms situated at the base of the walls (which are now used as fisheries).
In 1740, under Benedetto XIV and based on a project by Luigi Vanvitelli
, the central part of the wall was decorated with a large fountain in travertine
A harmonic and complex curving stairs descended to the water's edge.
Today the stairs are imprisoned in the "Prince Thomas" quay and the entire area has lost the characteristics of a meeting place which, during the course of centuries
has been accentuated making the port one of fulcrums of life in the city.
This and other internal port areas, which are not involved with port operations, will have to be restored for this type of activity which, amongst other things,
was typical of the port in the past.
Up until a few decades ago, the port of Civitavecchia could be considered a piece of architectonic jewelry, with the main structure of the Roman masterpiece still in tact.
In fact, the port, which was fruit of great ancient experience, had never been changed, not even by the Popes who limited themselves to substituting the temples and porticos destroyed by the cruelty of man and centuries of erosion with new ones.
Amongst other things, the men which the pontiffs called to supervise the construction of these monuments, such as Bramante, Michelangelo, Antonio da San Gallo and Bernini
, just to mention a few, were definitely at the height of this task.
Fortunately, all modern intervention, which partially changed the lovely outline of our port has left these works art in tact, or almost. On the East side, the male charm of fort Michelangelo is still reflected in the calm sea waters, a short distance away the superb arches of the Bernini dockyard appear as a monument to ancient Rome.
The side of the port that is near the city is closed off by a beautiful battlement of Urbano VIII
(completely built in brickwork), the monotony of which is interrupted in the central part by a marvelous fountain by Vanvitelli
Towards the west side, after the monumental Livorno gates
, there is an outline of the mighty walls of ancient Rocca
with its ancient quadrangular tower, which appears to have been built around time of Calisto III.
Past the mouth which leads to the old wet docks
(in the depths of which there probably still lies the colossal bronze statue of Neptune, whose arm was recuperated during the last century) the bastions which Antonio da San Gallo built during the first half of the XVI century face the sea.
Unfortunately, all that remains of the beautiful work that originally encompassed the entire city is that small part which in fact surrounds the old wet docks.
Only one of the 4 towers that were present during Roman times still survive, more precisely the one called "the glass" which is located at the end of the pier with the same name.
There is another similar tower on the opposite pier, called Lazzareto
, but itis not ancient even if built in exactly the same place as the first.
The other two Roman towers were located at the ramparts, in front of those mentioned.
In their place there now rises the Gregorian Fort
built by Gregorio XVI during the first half of last century, and the Beacon built in 1616 under the pontifical reign of Paul V: fitted with modern optical devices, today, even after three centuries, it still serves the scope for which it was built.
Through a small portico, which represents one of the best conserved parts of the ancient Rocca, formed by a wall of large travertine blocks, one reaches the old dockyard.
From the square it is possible to admire the beautiful "Porta Marina
" decorated with flat pillars in travertine rock, surmounted by Ionic capitals, with two granite columns.
The waters of the wet dock existed since the Roman era, as evidenced by the numerous antique objects found in time.
Recently as well, fragments were found that belong to columns and Doric capitals built in travertine, which are part of the ancient port which most probably ran along the entire length of the pier.
One part of the wall of the wet dock, formed by stone squares, dates back to the Imperial era. Those beautiful bronze lion heads, of classical design, which sustain mooring rings with their fangs, were added by the Popes of the XVI century as an ornamental feature.
From Porta Marina it is possible to reach Piazza Calamatta which is faced by a palace, built in the sixteenth century and mostly under the pontificate of Pius IV by
leaning it against the city walls of the ancient Rock.
The buildings dates back to various eras, particularly the part that faces the port which dates back to the times
of Julius II. The various transformations it has undergone, especially after the 1500's, the enclosure of the rock is still perfectly recognizable;
the origins are ancient and maybe to be attributed to the feudatories whom subsequently possessed Civitavecchia.
The Rock was of quadrilateral shape and stood on bluff over the entrance to the dockyard: Halfway through the 1400's it underwent notable transformations;
its enclosure was enlarged by adding two towers, one towards Porta Marina and the other, which is now hidden by a succession of buildings, towards Porta Livorno.
To be in possession of this formidable fortress also meant being in possession of the port which was the key of all communications with Rome; for this reason it was
the cause of continuous and bitter fights.
This famous fortress holds all the memories of the greatest historic cycles lived by Civitavecchia which, from the Rock assisted in its seafaring grandeur and with
the Rock pushed back the numerous attempts of invasion made during the centuries.