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Livorno, Port - Tuscany, Italy

Livorno

Cities and Towns in Tuscany

Livorno is one of Italy's most important port towns and has been for centuries.  Most people who ever visit Livorno arrive on a cruise ship.  At first glance, Livorno is by no means one of the most picturesque Tuscan cities, for  tt is a modern port city with a lot of industrial activity, and it does not have an evocative medieval heart.  The city is is spread across a series of rocky out-croppings, quite unlike the wide, sandy beaches that one will find to its north and south.  But the city is historically interesting and has its delights, including great seafood.
 
Livorno, sometimes called Leghorn by the English, is the third largest port on the Tyrrhenian Sea coast of Italy, after Genoa to the north and Naples to the south.  Historical documents refer to a cathedral that was built here in about 891 AD, but until the 15th century, it was a small fishing village and port of very little consequence.  The main Tuscan port at this time was Porta Pisa a little to the north and further inland along the Arno River.  Livorno's status and fortunes changed when the Medici rulers of Florence  made it the principle Mediterranean port for Tuscany.
 
Livorno's harbor is irregularly shaped, and a number of canals penetrate deeply into the old part of the city, a kind of ersatz Venice, but with a charm all its own and not one at all reminiscent of that other, older city.  Indeed, the heart of the city is called Venezia Nuova, or Porto Mediceo, which was built in the 16th century under orders from the Medici, Cosimo I, Grand Duke of the Duchy of Florence.
 
The harbor, canals, waterside fortress - the Fortezza Vecchio - and the centro storico were laid-out and built to a comprehensive design done by Bernardo Buontelenti who had much of the building work done by Venetian craftsmen.  The fortress was designed by Antonio de Sangalla, and incorporates an older Pisan fort, an 11th century tower, which pokes out the top, and a Roman castrum.
 
Architectural treasures are few and far between.  The bronze statue called the Quattro Mori - statue of the Four Moors - dating to 1595 is of special interest.  Four Moorish slaves writhe in their chains beneath Ferdinand I who stands above. The Duomo, originally built in 1587, then rebuilt after World War II, is not ugly, but not particularly beautiful either.  Of more importance historically is the Jewish Synagogue dating back to the early 17th century.
 
Not surprisingly, many of the buildings built in the 16th century were done in a post-Renaissance style.  The city core is surrounded by the Fosso Reale canal which is bridged on the east side by a high vaulted bridge called the Voltone, upon which rests the Piazza della Repubblica.  The popular, if down at heels, Fortezza Nuova sits on its north side.
 
Leading out of the Piazza della Repubblica, the via Grande passes via Madonna, where one finds the facades of three Baroque churches, and leads to the Piazza Grande, fronted by the Duomo, the building of which started in 1587.  It was badly damaged during WW II, but rebuilt.  The Piazza has been intersected by a modern building, which one must go around in order to get to the rest of the Piazza, where one will find the  17th century Palazzo di Camera and the Palazzo Municipio, with its double sided staircases, built in 1720.
 
Ocean going cargo vessels, cruise ships, ferries and other larger craft sit with an industrial brutishness in the port area, loading or unloading their human and non human cargoes, but colorful small boats and private yachts bob in the waters along the landings closer to shore, and in the canals, virtually all of which are still navigable.  One of these canals, not in use now, connects Livorno to Pisa.
 
The shoreline pRomenade, extends for many kilometers, incorporating a number of humped-back bridges over the canals. The pRomenade passes in front of a number of imposing 19th century buildings, many constructed in the Liberty style - an Italian variation of the French Art Nouveau style. In many places the oleander, pine trees and tamarisks offer a lush, green, and fragrant counterpoint to both the city and the sea.
 
Along the waterside are a number of bathing establishments, most built in the 19th century. Some of these are impressively built over the water on pylons.  Proceeding south, one finally encounters a tiny beach, the Spiaggia della Bellana, then a black and white tiled terrace called the Terrazzo del Mascagni, which offers vistas of the harbor, and the Tuscan archipelago, which includes the islands of Elba, Capraia, and Gorgona.  On a clear day one can see Corsica, birth place of Napoleon, now a French possession.  Near the Terrazzo is the Municipal Aquarium where one will find a plethora of local and exotic fish and other marine life.
 
Also in the south end is the Museo Civico Giovanni Fattori, a contemporary art museum housed in the Liberty style Villa Mimbelli, which is surrounded by a lovely public park on via Jacopo.  The collection contains a large selection of works from artists of the so called Macchiaioli movement, an Italian take on French impressionism.  One of its greatest members, Giovanni Fattori, was born in Livorno in 1825.
 
Ferdinand I, then Grand Duke of Tuscany, made Livorno a free port in 1618, inviting all comers to use it as a trading base.  The Jews, much persecuted throughout Europe and elsewhere, established a large "colony" here.  English Catholic exiles also settled in Livorno and it was they who gave it its English name, Leghorn.
 
In 1691, Ferdinand II, Grand Duke of Tuscany, after the  British and French navies bombarded the Dutch who were stationed in Livorno, declared Livorno to be a neutral port by International treaty.  The treaty was violated by Napoleon who established a blockade.
 
Livorno endured declining importance, and a great deal of strife, particularly during the Risorgimento when it largely sided, against the Grand Duchy of Tuscany, with the forces trying to achieve Italian unification and independence, which was finally accomplished in 1860.  The port filled important naval functions in the two world wars, and suffered immense damage in the second world war as a result of Allied bombing.
 
Livorno regained its importance as a commercial port when new port facilities were constructed in 1954.  It is now being discovered by travelers and tourists who are beginning to understand that the the city in its entirety, like Genoa say, is of interest, even if it lacks the significant individual attractions one finds in scores of other Italian towns and cities.
 
- Jesse Andrews, 2016 

 
 
 

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