Civitavecchia was originally called Centumcellae for its many coves on the rocky shoreline that could offer shelter to ships. Sitting on the Tyrrhenian Sea, its history is tied to the defense of and trade to the city of Rome.

The emperor Trajan, decided that this was the place for the construction of a port to replace the one almost buried by silt in Ostia, at the mouth of the Tiber, and charged Apollodorus of Damascus with the task.

The city and the port are in symbiosis and Civitavecchia grew with its harbour and had its heyday during the imperial period, between 314 A.D. and 538 A.D., after which time it was occupied by the Byzantines. In the eighth century it passed under the rule of the popes who had to face the Saracens, who in 828 occupied it and destroyed it almost completely transforming it into a base against Rome. The refugees escaped from the city and they built villages in the forests of Tolfa.

Around 1000 it returned under papal control until the domination and plunder of the French under Napoleon.

During World War II Civitavecchia paid for its strategic port location an hour from Rome undergoing 76 bombings that razed it.

Today the port of Civitavecchia is among the most important in the Mediterranean and is the second largest European port for the number of annual passengers in transit.