Livorno is the capital city of the province after its name. The prosperous maritime city, featured nowadays by its important commercial and industrial activities, is the second biggest town in Tuscany. It is located on the Tyrrhenian Sea, on the western border of Tuscany, at 20 kilometres to the south-east of Pisa, to which it is connected by a wide 16th navigable canal, known as the “Canale dei Navicelli”.
In the ages of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany, Livorno was the main harbour in the territory and, currently, it is the third one in Italy, after Genoa and Naples.
In the 16th century, the former small town started to develop into a beautiful large city. Livorno, with a pentagonal shape and encircled by canals and fortified walls, was set up on a marshy land. Therefore, as its quarters were interconnected by canals, the town became noted all over Italy as the “Small Venice”. Nowadays, those navigable canals, called “Fossi Medicei”, running to the historical centre, as well as the outstanding port of the same age, overlooked by massive defensive walls with towers and fortresses, make known the identity and the fascinating history of the city.
Livorno, also known as Leghorn among the English speakers, was formerly called Portus Liburni, and until the 16th century it was just a small town considered, essentially, the port of Pisa, who ruled it from the beginning of the 10th century until 1405, when it passed under the control of Genoa. In 1421 the Republic of Florence purchased the town for 100,000 gold florins, becoming the leading trading harbour in the Florentine jurisdiction to the consequent disadvantage of the neighbouring Pisa, whose trading business started to decline. So the still small town became the apple of Florence’s eye, which expanded it by a long way, increasing, as well, the social cultural development of its new and precious town.
Alessandro de Medici, Duke of Florence, begun to renovate the town commissioning from the great Florentine architect Antonio di Sangallo “Il Vecchio” (1455-1534) the design of the so called “Fortezza Vecchia” (Old Fortress) in order to strength the former and smaller one, which had been built during the Pisan domination.
The imposing pentagonal “Old Fortress” with three huge bastions, respectively known as the “Capitana”, the “Ampolletta” and the “Canaviglia”, was surrounded by a big and deep moat, while within its walls was preserved the medieval quadrangular Pisan fortress, as well as the amazing and far from the ground “Marzocco Tower” (over 53 metres of height), consisting of seven levels, which design was commissioned by the Republic of Florence in 1423 from the brilliant Florentine architect and sculptor Lorenzo Ghiberti (1378 -1455). The tower was partially reconstructed in 1737, as it was struck by lightning.
In the second half of the 16th century, Cosimo I de Medici, First Grand Duke of Tuscany, entrusted to the celebrate Florentine architect, military engineer and artist Bernardo Buontalenti (1531-1608) the planning of a modern, prosperous and secure sea town: Livorno, the ideal trading and military harbour in Tuscany, the maritime paradigm so much longed for the Grand Duke.
Then the principal work in the port was made, protecting it by a chain of rocks and enlarging it considerably, so to make the port sizeable enough to hold almost 140 ships.
Francesco I de Medici, son of Cosimo I, continuing with his father’s will, took charge of the construction of the quadrangular “New Fortress” to protect the city from enemy attacks and pirate incursions. Bernardo Buontalenti designed it and conducted the works in collaboration with Don Giovanni de Medici, brother of Francesco I and skilled architect. The “New Fortress” was surrounded by the “Fossi Medicei” (Medici canals). It overlooks the 16th marvellous quarters of San Marco and Venezia Nuova, which consists of twenty three islets interconnected by canals and charming bridges above them. Currently, the interior of the fortress is a beautiful park.
The quarter of “Venezia Nuova” hosts the splendid 16th Chiesa di Santa Caterina. It is a Dominican church, which was built on a peculiar octagonal plan, surmounted by an amazing dome of 63 metres of highness. The interior houses an outstanding apse, which was frescoed by the brilliant Tuscan artist Giorgio Vasari (1511-1574) representing “The Coronation of the Holy Virgin”.
On the other hand, the Duomo (Cathedral) was built in the scenicPiazzaGrande. Its design was commissioned by Ferdinando I de Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany, between 1587 and 1609, from the well-known Florentine architect Alessandro Pieroni (1550 ca. -1607), while the conduction of the work was entrusted to Antonio Cantagallina, noted Tuscan architect and painter. It was terminated in 1606 and devoted to St. Francis of Assisi. Unfortunately, the Cathedral was destroyed in 1943, during the severe bombardments over Livorno in the WWII.
It was faithfully rebuilt in 1952. The Cathedral preserves several artworks, among which make stand out some beautiful Mannerist paintings, like “St. Francis of Assisi” by Jacopo Chimenti da Empoli (1554-1640); “The Triumph of Santa Giulia” by Jacopo Ligozzi (1547-1627) and the “Assumption of the Holy Virgin” by Domenico Cresti “Il Passignano” (1560-1638).
By will of Ferdinando I de Medici many of the most important monuments and sites in Livorno were built, like the eastern residential area where the beautiful Piazza Grande is standing; Via Grande, also known as Via Ferdinanda ; the Chiesa di Santa Giulia (Via Santa Giulia), a wonderful mannerist church devoted to the saint patroness of the city, hosting several arts works, among which makes stand out an impressing altar piece representing S. Giulia, coming from the school of Giotto .The church also houses nine tombs where one each Knights of the Military Order of Saint Stephen were buried, as well as several relics of the saint patroness, which were granted to the church by the wife of the Grand Duke.
The Grand Duke took also charge of the enlargement of the harbour’s area - which reached a great extent, able to tie up more than 300 ships- as well as the construction of new fortified walls for the town.
Furthermore, Ferdinando I de Medici considered the need of increasing the population of Livorno, so in 1603 the “Leggi Livornine” (Livornese Costitution) was promulgated. That progressive constitution encouraged sailors, craftsmen, merchants and all sort of workers, coming from everywhere with their families, who wanted to reside and work in the city. The constitution offered them Tuscan citizenship, religious freedom, amnesty from previous crimes, including also the establishment of new courts regulated by a local civil and criminal jurisdiction. So, people from all over Italy, Greeks, Armenian, Persian, Jews and Moslems, expatriated from Spain and from Portugal for religious persecution, as well as Catholic Britons, Hollanders, Germans, French and other people from the most varied citizenships and religions found in Livorno a new warm fatherland. In 1691, Livorno was declared port franc by international treaty and, consequently, goods were exempt from taxes.
In his honour was built the gorgeous monument of “I Quattro Mori” (Monument of the Four Turks) placed in Piazza del Padiglione, representing Ferdinando I de Medici surrounded by four chained captives. The imposing statue of the Grand Duke, in white Carrara marble, wearing the uniform of the Order of the Knights of S. Stefano, was created in 1595 by the prestigious Florentine sculptor Giovanni Bandini (1540 -1599), while the four bronzed captives were sculptured by the famous Tuscan baroque artist Pietro Tacca (1577-1640).
The four captives were added to the large pedestal -in 1623, the two first, and in 1626, the other two- where the statue of the Grand Duke was already standing. The magnificent monument was inaugurated before Ferdinando II de Medici, who had succeeded his uncle in the throne of Tuscany.
During the reign of Cosimo III de Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany, other work and beautiful monuments were made in the town, like the small but treasured Chiesa di San Ferdinando Re, devoted to St. Fernando King of Spain. It was constructed between 1707 and 1714, behind the “Old Fortress”, by the well-known Florentine architect and sculptor Giovanni Battista Foggini (1652-1725). The late baroque church has a stunning interior, richly ornamented by precious marbles and housing several important artworks, like the sculptures by the eminent Tuscan artist Giovanni Baratta (1670-1747) representing St. Louis of France and the German Emperor Henry the Pius, as well as other beautiful symbolic representations of the Cardinal Virtues.
In the mid of the 18th century, when the Grand Duchy of Tuscany was already governed by the Habsburg-Lorena dynasty, Livorno was significantly enlarged and the communications between the city and the surrounding area were notably improved.
In the last decades of that century, the Grand Duke Peter Leopold reopened the city to more Italian and foreign workers in order to keep on increasing its population and, therefore, its economy. The Grand Duke offered also more privileges to the already large Jewish community, comprising the right to elect their own representatives in the Municipal Council. At the end of the 18th century the Jewish community was integrated by almost 5,000 people. The Jewish, who since the times of Ferdinando I de Medici were free to reside and work in any quarter of the city, opened in Livorno their own institutions, cemeteries, schools, a Rabbinical College, enlarging and embellishing as well the old synagogue, which, in 1789, became a marvellous and enormous site of cult, so to be considered the main and prettiest synagogue in Italy. In 1927, the Livorno’s Synagogue became also the home of the first museum of Hebrew art in Italy. Regrettably, the synagogue was seriously damaged during the WWII, so after the war, the Jewish community, composed only of 1,000 survivals, started to construct a new one, which was erected in the same place of the former one, in Piazza Elia Benamozegh. The synagogue, which is an outstanding example of modern architecture, houses the high interesting historical Jewish archives.
The 19th century, together with the 17th, is to be considered Livorno’s golden age. Great deals of public works were made, like the superb Aqueduct of Colognole and the “Cisternone” (huge cistern), located in the historical centre and constructed to decontaminate the water brought to the city by the aqueduct. It is a splendid Neoclassical building with a portico supported by eight Doric columns and crowned by an outstanding niche, which brings to mind the ancient Roman baths. The end of the 19th century was marked by the construction of the wonderful Maritime Promenade (Via Italia), overlooked by amazing Art Nouveau villas and running for almost 9 kilometres, reaching the lovely village of Antignano, as well as by the set up of splendid bathing structures along the seaside, which turned the city into the most stylish vacation sea town in Tuscany.
Since 1881 the city houses the Naval Academy. The former Naval High Schools, respectively located in Naples and Genoa were joined together, transferring to Livorno the official site.
After the reunification of Italy, Livorno lost its privilege as free port, so the city was obliged to transform step by step its economic resources, coming mainly from trading and tourist business, into solid industrial activities, becoming the prosperous industrial city that it currently is. Nevertheless, the beautiful city of Livorno, rich in art and culture, as well as surrounded by charming sites and resorts, is currently recovering its glorious past of first-class maritime resort.
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