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Bill Thayer

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This webpage reproduces a chapter of
The Cities and Cemeteries of Etruria

by George Dennis

published by John Murray, Albemarle Street
London, 1848.

The text is in the public domain.


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 p1  Chapter XXX


Ad Centumcellas forti defleximus Austro;

Tranquillâ puppes in statione sedent.
Molibus aequoreum concluditur amphitheatrum,

Angustoque aditus insula facta tegit;
Attollit geminas turres, bifidoque meatu,

Faucibus arctatis pandit utrumque latus.
Nec posuisse satis laxo navalia portu,

Ne vaga vel tutas ventilet aura rates.
Interior medias sinus invitatus in aedes

Instabilem fixis aëra nescit aquis.

— Rutilius.

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Ancient and modern condition of this port Etruscan relics at Civita Vecchia Tombs in the neighbourhood Road to Corneto

Whoever has approached the Eternal City from the sea must admit the fidelity of the above picture. As Civita Vecchia was 1400 years since, so is it now. The artificial island, with its twin-towers at the mouth of the port; the long moles stretching out to meet it; the double passage, narrowed almost to a closing of the jaws; the amphitheatre of water within, overhung by the houses of the town, and sheltered from every wind — will be at once recognised. It would seem to have remained in statu quo ever since it was built by Trajan. Yet the original  p2 town was almost utterly destroyed by the Saracens in the ninth century; but when rebuilt, the disposition of the port was preserved, by raising the moles, quay, and fortress on the ancient foundations, which are still visible beneath them.1

It is possible, in ancient times, when the ruler of the world made it his chosen retreat, and adorned it with his own virtues and the simple graces of his court, that Centum Cellae may have been, as Pliny found it, "a right pleasant place" — locus perjucundus.​2 Now, it is a paradise to none but facchini and doganieri. What more wearisome than the dull, dirty town of Civita Vecchia? and what traveller does not pray for a speedy deliverance from this den of thieves, of whom Gasperoni, though most renowned, is not the most accomplished? Civita is like "love, war, and hunting," according to the proverb — it is more easy to find the way in, than the way out. You enter the gates, whether on the land or sea-side, without even a demand for your passport; but to leave them, you must pass through the hands of a score of custom-house officers — a fingering which tends neither to brighten the countenance nor to smooth the temper. This is owing to Civita being a free port — a privilege which, in conjunction with steam-traffic, renders it the only thriving town in the Papal State, pre-eminently — till the quickening sun of Pius IX rose upon it — the land of stagnation.

It does not appear that an Etruscan town occupied this site. Yet relics of that antiquity are preserved here, some  p3 in the Town-hall, mostly from Corneto,​3 and some in the house of Signor Guglielmi, an extensive proprietor of land in the Roman Maremma,​4 besides a collection of vases, bronzes, and other portable articles in the shop of Signor Bucci, in the Piazza, whom I can highly recommend for his uprightness and moderate charges.

Three miles from Civita Vecchia, on the road to Corneto, at a spot called Cava della Scaglia, Etruscan tombs have been opened,​5 which seem to have belonged to the neighbouring Algae, though that place is known to us only as a Roman station.​6 Its site is marked by Torre Nuova, on the sea shore, three miles from Civita.​7 The country traversed on the way to Corneto is a desert of undulating heath, overrun with lentiscus, myrtle, and dwarf cork-trees —  p4 the haunt of the wild boar and roe-buck.​8 Corneto is so easy of access, the thirteen miles from Civita Vecchia are so rapidly accomplished, that the traveller who enters the Papal State by that port, should make a point of visiting the painted tombs of the Montarozzi, which will open to him clearer and more comprehensive views of the early civilization of Italy than he can derive on any other site, and which form an excellent introduction to the works of ancient art in Rome.


The ancient sites on this coast, between Rome and Centum Cellae, are thus given, with their distances, by the Itineraries:—

Antonine Itinerary
(Via Aurelia)

Lorium XII
Ad Turres X
Pyrgos XII
Castrum Novum VIII
Centum Cellas V

Antonine Maritime Itinerary

In Portum XVIII
Fregenas VIIII
Alsium VIIII
Ad Turres IIII
Pyrgos XII
Castrum Novum VIII
Centum Cellas VIII

Peutingerian Table
(Via Aurelia)

Lorio XII
Alsium VI
Pyrgos X
Punicum V
Castro Novo VIIII
Centum Cellis IIII

Another Maritime Itinerary

Portus Augusti  
Panapionem III
Castrum Novum VII
Centum Cellas V

The Author's Notes:

1 There are other remains of the Roman town on the shore without the walls; and the aqueduct which supplies the town with water is said to be erected, for the most part, on the ruins of that constructed by Trajan. On the shore, at this spot, was discovered that colossal arm in bronze now in the Gregorian Museum, which, though of the time of Trajan, is said to "surpass perhaps in beauty all ancient works in this metal with which we are acquainted." Bull. Inst. 1837, p5.

2 Plin. Epist. VI.31.

3 These have been placed here only since 1843; and consist of sarcophagi of nenfro with recumbent figures on the lids, recently found in the Montarozzi; and half a dozen female heads in stone, painted in imitation of life, and very Egyptian in character. Besides these, there are sundry Roman cippi and monumental tablets, among which will be found the names of Pompeius and Caesennius — families of Tarquinii, as has been already shown (Vol. I. pp307, 368) — Veturius, which answer to the Velthur in the Grotta delle Iscrizioni (Vol. I. p340) — and several milestones, probably of the Via Aurelia.

4 The collection in the house of Signor Guglielmi is composed of articles found upon his own lands. One of the most remarkable objects is an urn of nenfro, found near Montalto, in 1840. It is in the form of a little temple, supported on Ionic-like columns, with a moulded doorway at one end, and a male figure, in relief, holding a wand and patera, at the other — probably representing the deceased, whose name is inscribed in Etruscan characters around him. In the opposite tympanum is a human head set in a flower; and the angles of the pediments rest on lions' heads. Micali, Mon. Ined. pp403‑7, tav. LIX.

5 Excavations were made here in 1830 by Signor Bucci, but with no great success. His attention was drawn to the spot by a Figaro of Civita Vecchia, who, fifteen years previous, had found there a shoe of bronze, which he had esteemed of no value, till a foreigner entering his shop, seized upon it and carried it off, leaving a napoleon in the palm of the astonished barber.

6 Mentioned in the Maritime Itinerary. Ut supra, Vol. I. p388.

7 Three miles to the north-east of Civita Vecchia, on the road to the Allumiere, are the Bagni di Ferrata, the hot springs lauded by Rutilius (I.249) as the Thermae Tauri, and identical with the "Aquenses cognomine Taurini," mentioned by Pliny (III.8) in his catalogue of Roman Colonies in Etruria, which has inconsiderately been referred to Acquapendente. See Vol. I. p501.

8 About half-way, or before reaching Le Mole, a little to the right of the road, is a spot called Piano d'Organo, where are said to be tombs and fragments of ancient walling; but I have had no opportunity of verifying this report.

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Page updated: 13 Oct 06