Throughout the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, the city states of Genoa, Venice, Pisa, and Amalfi vied for control of trade routes in the Mediterranean Sea. While the rise of Atlantic trade and other factors led to their eventual decline, they paved the way for the seafaring European powers that followed.
Today Italy remains a hub for shipping in the Mediterranean, organized around high-capacity ports overseen mainly by public port authorities established by the 1994 Port Reform Law.
The following is a list of the top 10 ports in Italy.
Functioning primarily as a transshipment hub, it is uniquely suited to serve Ultra Large Container Ships (ULCS).
The port is located in Calabria in the south of Italy, and intersects the international shipping line that stretches from the Suez Canal to the Strait of Gibraltar.
Situated half way between Venice and Florence, the Port of Ravenna is connected to the Adriatic Sea by a canal. The port sees major traffic in agricultural and industrial products, ranging from animal feed to cereals and fertilizers.
The city itself was listed as a UNESCO world heritage site in 1996.
Venezia port is the 8th busiest port in the country, and controversially serves as a major hub for cruise ships in the region.
The center of the new port, established in 1996, is the mainland harbor of Marghera, where much of the industrial activity surrounding the lagoon is based.
Second to Naples in economic importance in the south of Italy, the port of Bari lies on the Adriatic in the Puglia region.
The new port supports cargo transport to and from southeastern Europe, and is the embarkation point for various passenger ferries as well the agricultural and industrial products of the region.
In addition to serving as an access point to the Balkans and the Middle East, the port is also an important center for such industries as petroleum refining, textile milling, and food processing.
Cagliari lies on the southern coast of Sardinia, and is the largest city on the island with one of the largest container terminals on the Mediterranean Sea. Its annual traffic capacity amounts to around 50 million tonnes of cargo and 1,000,000 TEUs, while surrounding industry supports flour and sugar processing as well as the manufacturing of cement and ceramics.
Civitavecchia, located 80km north of Rome on the Tyrrhenian Sea, serves as the port of Rome.
In addition to being one of the busiest ferry ports in the world, connecting Central Italy to Sardinia, Barcelona, Tunis, and other cities bordering the Mediterranean, the port also supports fishing, thermoelectric, and metallurgic industries.
But while tourism is the city's most important economic sector today, the port is Italy's main cargo-handling point and one of the most important ports for container traffic in the region.
Its location on the Ligurian Sea in the Italian Riviera connects it to La Spezia port to the south and the port of Cannes in France to the west.
Also on the Ligurian coast, La Spezia is Italy's main naval hub.
The area houses a navigation school and a commercial port that imports coal, petroleum, and natural gas, while exporting metal products and refined petroleum.
The commercial port is a busy container terminal, but automotive, aerospace, and ship-building are also major industries in the area.
Additionally, food processing is a critical contributor to the local economy, with Neapolitan coffee grown here sent around the world via the port of Naples.
Historically a Free Port servicing the land-locked countries of Central and Eastern Europe, Trieste continues to play a vital role as an Adriatic Sea port.
Developed in the late 1800s, the port is divided into five zones and houses a terminal for container and petroleum shipping, as well as metallurgical industry. It has seen steady growth in traffic in recent years.