Leghorn or Livorno?

Livorno is Tuscany’s third largest city after Florence and Prato. Unfortunately, it sometimes doesn’t get a very good press, both from the tourist agencies and from Tuscany’s own inhabitants. It’s meant to be a city with nothing of really outstanding interest and the people’s character is often disparagingly depicted. (But then isn’t this the fate of most Italian cities as depicted by their neighbours…).

All this is, of course, quite stereotyped and wrong. Livorno is a fascinating place to visit and is unique among Tuscan cities in that it was specifically planned as a port city by the Medici in the sixteenth century when Pisa had become hopelessly silted up.

Situated along the coast of the Ligurian Sea, Livorno is one of the most important Italian ports, both commercially and as a tourist embarkation centre. What a pity all those hoards alighting from cruise ships for a hasty visit to Pisa’s leaning tower don’t stop for at least an hour there…

Livorno’s general appearance is modern, not just because it has no mediaeval buildings, but because it was heavily bombed in World war two. Despite this there are many districts and buildings of charm. For example, the “Venice” area, so –called because of its canals, is fascinating.

The old and “new” fortresses are also well worth perusing.

There are some magnificent examples of art nouveau buildings, often with an oriental or saracenic tinge, along the seafront.

Livorno also happens to be, historically, the most “international” and multi-ethnic city in Tuscany because of its origin as a free port frequented by foreign merchants and home to consulates and shipping companies. For example, there is the protestant cemetery with the tombs of such notables as the author Smollett (whose writings on Italy make particularly amusing reading). And soon the Dutch protestant church (one of the largest in Italy) will be restored after years of neglect. Jewish communities, too, have benefitted from the city’s tradition of religious tolerance.

Livorno used to be a renowned beach resorts with spas, and was also known as Montecatini-by-the-sea. I doubt if few people would choose it today as their favourite bathing establishment – the port is too close for that. There are, however, delightful walks to be had along the seafront leading to that superb marine plaza, the terrazza Mascagni, dedicated to one of the city’s three best known sons and happy scene of shows and dancing in the summer months

Livorno’s two other most famous sons are Modigliani, whose house still remains and is visitable (though, regrettably, without any of his priceless works) and Italian impressionist painter, Fattori, some of whose wonderful paintings are fortunately still with the city and displayed in the luxurious villa Mimbelli.

Nearby is the Montenero Sanctuary, dedicated to Our Lady of Grace, patron saint of Tuscany, The sanctuary, which has magnificent views looking out over the bay, hosts also a very interesting collection of ex-votos mainly dealing with (naturally) miraculous escapes from the sea and road accidents

We’ve visited Livorno (or Leghorn as it is traditionally known among brits) several times, and not just for the purpose of jumping on a ferry to Corsica or Sardinia. Each time we have found something new of interest for us, whether it be a visit on the open day of the Naval Academy or whether it be the aquarium and Mediterranean sea-life museum. (photographs here were all taken during a visit in June 2006).

Above all, Livorno has a real “city feel”, so if one pines for crowds, night-life and traffic after the sylvan peace of Bagni di Lucca then “Leghorn” is an appropriate destination.

You may also be interested in reading another post about Livorno at http://longoio.wordpress.com/2013/04/22/legging-it-in-leghorn/






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