Under the asphalt


The harbor of Rome is located in Civitavecchia (lit. “Old City”). However, one is hard pressed to find much that is old. Allied bombing in WW2 buried the place. Modern construction covered what was left.

But if you can peel back the layers and imagine it, this was once a vacation getaway favored by the Imperial family. It was put on the map by Emperor Trajan and mentioned for the first time by Pliny the Younger at the end of the first century.* Among the hundreds of letters that Pliny left behind is one directed to Cornelianus. In it he describes a visit to the harbor of Civitavecchia using its original name, Centum Cellae.

“I was greatly delighted when our Emperor sent for me to Centum Cellae - for that is the name of the place - to act as a member of his Council. For what could be more gratifying than to be privileged to witness the justice, dignity, and charming manners of the Emperor in his country retreat, where he allows these qualities the freest play?” (Note: Pliny was something of a suck-up).

And later in the same letter:

“The villa, which is exquisitely beautiful, is surrounded by meadows of the richest green; it abuts on the sea-shore, in the bight of which a harbour is being hastily formed, the left arm having been strengthened by masonry of great solidity, while the right is now in course of construction. In the mouth of the harbour an island rises out of the sea, which by its position breaks the force of the waves that are carried in by the wind, and affords a safe passage to ships on either side. The island has been artificially constructed, and is not a natural formation, for a broad barge brings up a number of immense stones, which are thrown into the water, one on top of the other, and these are kept in position by their own weight, and gradually become built up into a sort of breakwater. The ridge of stones already overtops the surface, and when the waves strike upon it, it breaks them into spray and throws them to a great height. That causes a loud-resounding roar, and the sea all round is white with foam. Subsequently concrete will be added to the stones, to give it the appearance of a natural island as time goes on. This harbour will be called - and indeed it already is called - after the name of its constructor, and it will prove a haven of the greatest value, inasmuch as there is a long stretch of shore which has no harbour, and the sailors will use this as a place of refuge.“  

*You can find this English translation of Pliny’s letter here.


We have several travel experiences planned for 2019 (see list here). These are organized on behalf of educational institutions or church groups. If you are a leader who is interested in crafting a unique travel opportunity for your organization or if you are an individual who would like to join a group, shoot me an email at markziese@gmail.com.