Livorno – Marittime Republic Beaches and Islands of the Tuscan Archipelago


Livorno is without any doubt completely different to all other Tuscan cities. There are no medieval churches or Renaissance piazzas that are typical of this region. However, although it is lacking in historic monuments and other typically Tuscan traits, the city is a leading maritime centre, the sea being defining feature of the city and its inhabitants.

The history of Livorno is linked to its strategic position due to its natural port, which is in easy access to all of the main centres of Tuscany, that was controlled by the Medici for a long time who, in order to repopulate the city, offered amnesties and tax reductions to anyone who was willing to go and live there. In the 18th century, Livorno was passed to the Lorena Family, who began projects which aimed to drain wetlands and to regenerate the buildings of the city by constructing a surrounding wall around the city, of which only a part still remains.

The original tolerance and the fact that Livorno was an important trading centre had a big impact on the city. The city is host to a Greek church which is amongst the most beautiful historic buildings of Livorno and was founded by Pietro Valdo, an English cemetery and a synagogue. In fact Livorno still has one of the largest and most important Jewish communities in Italy.

Its fortunate position worked in Livorno’s favour for a long time, but it was also the motive behind its almost total destruction by German bombings during the 2nd World War. As a result, very few historical buildings remain, with the exception of several beautiful 18th century buildings in the central Via Borra and a few sixteenth century fortresses. The first of these fortresses, Fortezza Vecchia, appears almost isolated in the sea next to the older Tower of the Countess Matilde di Canossa, the tower the poet Francesco Petrarca once described as the eighth wonder of the world. Some decades later the fortress became known as the Fortezza Nuova. It is surrounded by a moat which encloses a public garden and an exhibition centre. The remains of the fortresses are in reality only part of the original buildings, as sections were demolished in order to make space for the inhabitants. This area of the city, which is called Venezia, is without a doubt best known for the channels that transect it, each with bridges and ports. The most impressive part of the area is the Piazza della Repubblica, called il Voltone by the citizens of Livorno. It features a gigantic bridge that crosses over a navigable channel whose banks are lined with old warehouses.

Venezia is at the centre of Livorno’s night-life, and is jammed with bars and restaurants offering hearty and traditional fish dishes. Every year, at the end of July, Livorno plays host to Effetto Venezia, a festival which livens up the canals with art displays, local crafts and music concerts playing a range of music including jazz, classical and world music.

Another famous part of Livorno is its promenade; a long walk that stretches from the Medici port in the centre of the city right down to the borders just south of the city. Here you will see a succession of wonderful, panoramic views starting from the palm trees at the beginning of the walk, the monochrome marble of the Terazza Mascagni, rows of shrubbery leading up to historic Dome of Ardenza (which during the summer hosts the exhibition of the famous painting, the Premio Rotonda) and finally further along the promenade there are more views right up to the Antignano.

Continuing south, you will see one of the most beautiful seascapes in Italy, with towers and sloping cliffs which line the Roman Aurelia road connecting Calafuria, Calignaia, Boccale Castle, the Cala del Leone, until finally arriving at Quercianella and Castiglioncello – famous for its night life since the 50′s and even now many VIP’s go there.

In addition to the beautiful coastal scenery of Livorno, another thing to note is the strong bond between the locals and the sea. Not only do they spend the better part of their day at the beach during the summer, staying late into the evening, but also in winter, on the occasional sunny days, it’s not unusual to find people of all ages on the beach, sitting, having lunch and sunbathing. Some even go swimming and winter bathing in the sea is an activity that is popular amongst the older generation.

Coming away from the seaside and going up towards the hills to the south of the city, you will reach Montenero, a woodland area from which you can enjoy some of the most attractive views of the city. The lush vegetation blends in with the typical red Tuscan tile rooftops blending and the blue of the sea. Montenero has always been a popular holiday destination and not only for the Mariano Sanctuary. The sanctuary is a very interesting place; the most beautiful part being the caves and one of which is filled with paintings and objects dedicated to the Virgin Mary from devotees from all over Tuscany who came here from the 17th Century in thanks for salvation from danger or ill fortune.

The sea that extends out from the city of Livorno is a natural park, the Arcipelago of Tuscany was founded. The park is home to many endangered species including seagulls and the sea monkey, as well as sea mammals. However, the park is popular with tourists who come for the beauty of the sea and the islands of the archipelago. The largest and most famous is Elba Island, long enjoyed by Northern European tourists and young Tuscan tourists who are attracted by the abundance of foreigners! The island has a unique combination of beautiful beaches and a fascinating prehistory that includes the Etruscans, Romans and Napoleon. The other islands of the Tuscan Archipelago – Gorgona, Capraia, Pianosa, Montecristo, Giannutri and Isola del Giglio are all much smaller and more remote than Elba – noted for having hosted monasteries and prisons and today nature reserves.

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