The Province of Livorno is located along the coast of the Ligurian Sea. The capital city, also named Livorno, is one of Italy’s most important ports for both tourism and trade. It includes several islands of the Tuscan Archipelago, including Elba and Capraia. Livorno is located just south of Pisa and to the west of Florence.
The coastline of the area is known as Costa degli Etruschi – the Etruscan Coast and has been inhabited since the Neolithic period. During the Renaissance and the rule of the Medici family, the province was fortified with the building of many towers and forts. Marina di Bibbona was initially founded as a fort due to its strategic coastal position and the town of San Vincenzo still has its landmark 14th century tower. In Livorno, you can still visit the age-old defenses, but as centuries passed, the city expanded. Today it has a beautiful contrast between old and new, together with the industrial nature of the port. Although many people pass through Livorno to get to Pisa, it is a fantastic destination in its own right and has a great deal of historical sites and a beautiful coastline just waiting to be explored.
The port of Livorno is a truly impressive and monumental site. Stretching from the quiet harbor at the Livorno Aquarium to the opening of the canal that eventually joins to the river Arno, the port has a mix of commercial shipping and recreational cruise terminals. Walking through this enormous port provides a fascinating opportunity to see how something of this magnitude operates, which is the first thing many people see as they disembark from cruise ships.
Although now dwarfed by the giant ships of today, you will notice two fortresses that protect the harbor. Dating from the time of the early Renaissance, these structures are Fortezza Vecchia, known as the old fort and Fortezza Nuova, the new fort. The names are actually a bit humorous. Each fortress is over 500 years old and were built within a few decades of one another, but the names stuck! The Medici family paid for the construction of the fortifications and they still remain a symbol of the city’s power.
The new fort features a pentagonal style that was revolutionary at that time, and contains a series of pointed battlements. It is surrounded on all sides by one of the city’s numerous canals and is protected by ancient walls. Many of the defensive features stand intact such as the gun ports, while the center of the fort has been transformed into a beautiful garden. It is a fascinating place to visit and tourists may walk the grounds, explore the fort’s passages and enjoy the wonderful view of the city and canals from the battlements.
The area surrounding Fortezza Nuova is known as Nuova Venezia (New Venice), due to the canals that line the streets. Starting at the Scali delle Ancore, you can walk around the central canal and across the bridge on Via della Venezia; from here you can admire the beautiful waterways and small sailing boats that line the canals. Continue towards the Scali del Reugio and see the stunning 18th century Baroque Chiesa di Santa Caterina, famous for its octagonal design and soaring frescoed dome that rises over 200 feet above the church’s marble floor. There are numerous streets and canals to explore in this area with an undeniable charm. Chiesa di San Ferdinando is located on the Via della Venezia near Nuova Venezia and is another fine example of Baroque architecture. The church could be easily overlooked by those walking through the area. It has a plain exterior design with an unfinished front façade, yet its interior is in complete contrast, featuring stunning designs. It contains ornate artwork with columns and arches lined with stucco decoration, while the central altar has a myriad of sculptures and religious reliefs.
Livorno also has numerous areas of promenade that offer amazing coastal views. Terrazza Mascagni is one of the City’s finest and is a spot frequented by both locals and tourists. Located to the south of the main commercial port area, a terrace juts out into the sea along a curved stone paved walkway. It is adjacent to the Livorno Aquarium and it offers the perfect place to watch the sunset and have a leisurely walk in the evening.
For fantastic sea views and a breath of invigorating sea air, the Via Italia is an ideal place to walk on a sunny morning. Beginning at the port and continuing to the stunning landscaped area of Parco Bartolini, the road passes amazing coastal scenery, giving visitors a chance to gaze out onto the Ligurian Sea and marvel at the architecture of Livorno.
Via Grande is one of the most important streets in Livorno, stretching from the port area to the impressive Piazza della Repubblica. This enormous square, in the shape of a large oval, has two ornate marble statues that stand guard at either end, while the surrounding buildings feature a beautiful array of colors and styles ranging from Late Renaissance to Baroque and even Neo-Gothic. Several fascinating art galleries are found near the piazza, in addition to a host of restaurants with outdoor seating areas. At the western end of Via Grande is Piazza Micheli, where visitors will find Livorno’s most famous statue – Monumento dei Quattro Mori (the Monument of the Four Moors). It was completed in 1626 to commemorate the victories of Ferdinando I of Tuscany over the Ottomans. The monument takes its name from the four bronze statues of Moorish prisoners in chains that are found at the base of the statue, which features Ferdinando atop an impressive pedestal.
One of the newer places to visit in Livorno is the Museo Civico. Opened in 1994, it is located within the historic Villa Mimbelli and is surrounded by beautiful gardens. Split into three separate floors, the museum houses a rich collection of artwork and artifacts, spanning several hundred years of history, offering a fascinating insight into various forms of artistry and painting styles. Works from notable artists include Giovanni Fattori and the ‘Macchiaiolo artists,’ who were Tuscan painters from the 19th century.
If you are looking for a slice of local life, the Mercato Centrale is an ideal place to start. Located on the Scali Aurelio Staffi, the enormous building stands out amidst the surrounding structures and packed within is a plethora of market stalls. The sights, sounds and smells of the market are such that first-time visitors do not know in which direction to turn first. Inside you will find 34 shops and over 200 different stalls that sell everything from meat, poultry and ham to eggs, cheeses, wine and bread. There is also an outdoor area that sells a variety of clothing and accessories.
With all of the history and beauty of Livorno, make sure to include the Province and especially the city on your itinerary if you are planning a trip to Tuscany.