Some 30 foreign yachters are now wintering in the quiet waters of a new harbour near the mouth of the Tiber, the first custom-made maritime haven in Rome since ancient times.

Crowds of curious visitors most of them from the city now throng the Tourist Port of Rome, a vast enclosure between the Tiber estuary and Ostia Lido, which opened 20 months ago. The great originality of the marina is that it is a daring resuscitation of the port of Claudius (see Romes ancient ports below), or at least of its most striking feature: a long, monumental arcade or colonnade, the pillars of its arches now, as then, vested in ivory-coloured travertine marble. Today it is a vast pedestrian area, a kilometre long, doubling as the marinas quayside shopping mall.

Facing out over two yacht basins populated by craft from all over Europe, the arcades 80 chic boutiques and stores offer everything from ladies shoes to storm lanterns, from fantasy sunglasses to newspapers from London and Frankfurt. Loungers gaze out over a forest of tall masts and flapping pennants from outside tables under the arches or smart and roomy restaurants with arresting murals. Alessandro Maddaleni, a bartender, said: The boats used to put in at Civitavecchia, but thats one-and-a-half hours from Rome, and here were only 30 minutes away.

I think we all do pretty good business here, acknowledged Roberta, who looks after La Cornucopia selling bright gadgets for the bathroom and kitchen. We get a lot of people, especially at weekends, and they like it because there are no cars or motorini, the air is good, its safe for the kids. Of course, if it rains, theres nobody. Thats the difference from an indoor shopping centre.

The marina, a totally private venture embarked on by a firm called ATI (Attivit Turistica Imprenditori), can berth over 800 craft, which tie up along 16 piers and are assured of calm water by two curving arms of seawall reaching towards a split-circle harbour entrance. On hand is also a naval shipyard, and, interestingly, all the moorings are for sale to would-be investors seeking what are alleged to be healthy returns. The smallest water area costs e35,000.

The marinas nerve centre is its control tower, modelled on the 16th-century Tor S. Michele a stones throw away. This old naval defence bastion designed by Michelangelo now stands in the middle of a thriving bird sanctuary, the Parco LIPU, sheltering 170 rare species, and only yards from a monument marking the spot where the poet and film-maker Pier Paolo Pasolini was murdered 27 years ago.

Its all been a great success, confirmed Cristina Manzo in ATIs head office. On a summer weekend, we have about 50,000 visitors, and some 30,000 in other months, including winter if the sun is out. As for the yachts, 350 are here permanently and were actually taking business away from Gaeta (about 120 km to the south). But in summer, Id say 60 per cent of boats putting in here are foreign. Weve some 30 foreigners who are here now, spending the entire winter with us.

One of them, Peter Winnett from near Felixstowe, left Britain on his yacht Too Shy five years ago and has never been back, obviously enjoying every minute. Everything you have got in your home, I have in mine, simply on a smaller scale. Of his wife Sue and his cat Ollie he said: We are total live-aboards, wintering in harbour and then from May onwards, when berthing prices shoot up 50-80 per cent, cruising around, keeping in touch with like-minded English-speaking mariners through a regular radio hook-up called Mednet. Thats how we get to know where everybodys wintering.

Winnett considered the Rome marina excellent and extremely helpful, doubtless partly because they charged him only e1,200 for being there from October to April. He has spent his time fixing his boat theres been a lot of work to do on it and frequently exploring Rome. Were having a wonderful time.

This summer he will be sailing around the islands of Croatia with his friends. One of them, another winterer, is Chris Ennor, a cheery and burly Australian who left home with his wife on Magic Carpet, a catamaran, in July 1994 . Yes, weve been around a bit Indonesia, the Black Sea, Rumania, Ukraine, you name it. He also seemed content, and introduced the crew members, a furry cat from Thailand and a tugging dog from Turkey.

Porto Turistico: Lungomare Duca Degli Abruzzi 84, tel. 0656188236.

Romes ancient ports

Emperor Claudius built a new port for Rome in 42 AD to replace the original one at nearby Ostia, which had become inadequate for trade and was silting up. In time this too became insufficient, and in 103 AD it was incorporated into a new, larger port by Emperor Trajan to satisfy the ravenous appetite of a city then importing half a million tonnes of grain and 60,000 tonnes of wine a year. A striking hexagonal structure, Trajans port is still visible today from planes landing at the nearby Fiumicino airport. There are almost no traces of the Port of Claudius.