Livorno: Tuscany’s Surprising Venice
By Mark Gordon Smith
For most travelers, Livorno is only the final destination for trains that connect Florence with Montecatini Terme, Lucca and Pisa or a bus stop for cruise passengers picking up coaches en route to the more familiar Tuscanian delights. However, for those with a curiosity about renaissance history, those who wish to visit a less crowded city and those interested in seeing unique canals, add Livorno to your list of places you must visit while in Tuscany.
Bernardo Buontalenti, (Bernardo Delle Girandolea) a highly respected architect, military engineer and artist of the 16th Century, designed the fortifications that stand to this day at the port entrance. The port’s geographic proximity to Pisa and Florence (over land and by transport on the River Arno) created the need for the port’s protection.
It was the laws of trade, in the latter part of the 16th Century, that created Livorno’s nickname of “Venice of Tuscany”. Ferdinand I di Medici,Grand Duke of Tuscany, created what was called the Leggi Livornine in 1587. The law created a ‘porto Franco’, or tax free port for goods that moved through the city. This law motivated merchants from across Europe, who sought the advantages of location and cost savings, to establish branches of their businesses in the city.
To help move goods to warehouses and to facilitate ease of transportation, these new companies supported the creation of canals which connected the places of business to the main port and sea.
Thus was born “Veneiza Nuova” or “New Venice” as that area of the city came to be called.
The new trade laws also created a city politic that became a welcome safe haven for those who sought refuge from both religious and political persecution. One of the little-known effects of the Thirty-Years War was that the economy of Livorno particularly, and Italy in General, experienced a serious and long-lasting downturn.
In early 1921, Livorno was the birthplace of the Italian Communist Party and to this day is known as a very left-leaning city. Politics and intrigue aside, this is a lovely city and absolutely worth your time to visit while in Tuscany.
Livorno “Venezia Nuova”
The city today is a major departure point for ferry services that connect Livorno to Corsica, Sardinia, Sicily and other Med ports. If you have the time, taking the ferry between locations during your trip can be both helpful and enjoyable. Livorno is famous, as well, for its being home to the Italian Naval Academy.
Mark Gordon Smith is a published author and President of Private Italy Tours. For over ten years, his company has provided unforgettable small small group explorations of Italy and Greece. www.private-italy.com..
If You Go
Trains run nearly every hour to Florence. You can also head north toward Genoa and the “Cinque
Terre”, or direct to Rome. For schedules and costs, go to www.trenitalia.it.
Driving in Livorno is complicated by security systems which limit the access of cars to the city center – much like most cities in Tuscany.
If you are driving into the city, my recommendation is to park close to the port at the Parcheggio Custodito al Porto (the secure parking area near the port). If you have a choice of taking the train or driving, take the train!
Restaurants in Livorno
This list is focused on restaurants in the Venetian quarter of the city. There are certainly others. However this the neighborhood with the most picturesque places to enjoy a meal.
There are many excellent restaurants in the city. The short list, below, are places I have enjoyed dinners and/or lunches over the years.
Al Fosso Reale Rated very highly on several web sites, this lovely small restaurant is located near the Fortezza Nuova in the city center. Well worth going-I’ve only eaten here once for dinner, and highly recommend this place to all. Order the “Zuppa di Pesce di Livorno” – Local seafood soup. Outstanding! Scali delle Cantine 52/54, Livorno Tel: +39.0586.888.474
Trattoria L’Antica Venezia I’ve had the privilege of eating in this small delightful place several times. The food is outstanding, fairly priced and the service reliable and friendly. Piazza dei Domenicani, 15 Livorno Tel: +39.0586.887.353
Chez Ugo Pizzeria Don’t expect fancy in any way, yet this place serves exceptional pizza – of more kinds that you can count – in a clean and busy atmosphere. For lunch its great, for a light dinner even better. Scali Monte Pio, 35, 57123 Livorno Tel: +39.0586.219.230
Hotels in Livorno
This lovely hotel is located directly across the Via Italia, along the waterfront across from the Naval Academy. The rooms are clean and the rates are very good Viale Italia, 301 – 57127 livorno (LI)
Located in the heart of the city, this hotel was recently fully updated and modernized. Excellent location, great rooms and fair prices. A wonderful hotel base while in Livorno. Via Mayer, 42/57
Located an easy walk from the train station, this is a very nice property in the city center. If you are planning on an overnight for an early train or ferry, this would be a great place for an inexpensive evening. Lots of cafes and trattorias in the neighborhood. I do not recommend this hotel if you are hoping to be close to the canal neighborhood of the city, though. Viale Carducci, 301 – Livorno (LI) Tel: +39.0586.429.504