Head to Livorno for some mouthwatering Cacciucco and have a wander around Little Venice.
The busy port of Livorno lies 20 km from Pisa in Tuscany. It serves up some of the best seafood you’ll find in Tuscany particularly the delicious Cacciucco. It’s not what you’d call pretty, but give it time. It has an unaffected air that some might call shabby, but it might just grow on you.
”New Venice” is far and away the best looking part of Livorno. That and the checker-board Terrazza Mascagni are the most scenic parts of town. Around these areas there’s enough entertainment and eateries to keep you busy for some time.
The best of Livorno:
Livorno was once described as “a brand new little town, so pretty and handy as to fit in a tobacco box.” Today what remains of that ‘pretty’ town lies between the sea and the New Fortress. It’s full of small picturesque canals, built in the 17th century using Venetian methods of reclaiming land from the sea, and is known as “New Venice”. At the heart of this quarter stands the Church of Santa Caterina with its octagonal, heavily frescoed dome.
“New Venice” can be visited on foot and via a boat tour. It takes roughly an hour (info at the Tourist office, via Pieroni 18). Remember there’s no shade, so bring a hat and sun lotion. The tour meanders along the waterways and ducks under Piazza Repubblica that is, in fact, a huge bridge. (For more information see: livornoinbatello.it) . During August the area hosts a 5-day festival called “Effetto Venezia”.
A walk along the seafront is a must. Heading to the Terrazza Mascagni is the perfect way to witness a Mediterranean sunset, and discover the many bars and restaurants that animate Livorno’s nightlife. Here you can try one of the town’s delicacies, Cacciucco. This Livornese speciality is a thick fish soup in tomato sauce served with bread.
OLD FORTRESS – Dilapidated but still fascinating, this red bulky structure dominates the port. It was built in 1519 by the architect Sangallo and commissioned by the Medici. It was around this massive fortress that the port of Livorno grew strong and modern. Sangallo, who “would teach Europe how to build fortresses” used remains of older edifices, like the 13th century Tower of Matilde.
STATUE OF QUATTRO MORI – A strong subject for the dramatic statue “the four moors” dedicated to Ferdinando I de’ Medici towering over four chained Ottoman pirates. The Napoleonic soldiers didn’t like it, finding it offensive and tried to move it, but as soon as the invading troops left Livorno, the statue went back to its place in the busy Piazza Micheli. It’s a symbol of the city and tradition has it that if you find a point from which you can see the statue and the four moors at the same time, you’ll have good luck.
MUSEO CIVICO GIOVANNI FATTORI – the art museum dedicated to Giovanni Fattori, the best known of the Macchiaioli, and some of his contemporaries. They were the Tuscan pioneers of Impressionism, who painted the Tuscan landscape with particular attention to the effect of light. Fattori is best loved for his small paintings that look like sketches ( ‘macchia’ means sketch-like composition using blocks of colour).
NATURAL HISTORY MUSEUM – A Scottish sea captain gave his name to Villa Henderson, and this is now home to the Mediterranean Natural History Museum (Via Roma 234, closed Mon, €10 full price). It’s nothing fancy, just a small museum with a collection of whale skeletons and a botanical garden.
AQUARIUM – Small but nicely kept.
Travelling from Livorno to Florence and Pisa:
If you’re on a cruise and stop in Livorno for the day, you might decide to skip a visit to the city and head somewhere else. There’s a shuttle bus from the cruise-port to the town. It’s easy to get to Pisa by train (15 minutes) or Florence ( around 1h and 20 minutes) – or you can get a direct bus – see livornonow.com for detailed information.
A bit of history:
The Medici turned Livorno from a small harbour into one of the most important ports on the Mediterrenean Sea. They built strong fortifications and gave the town a modern organisation. Thanks to the “Livorno Laws” of 1593, Livorno was converted into a cosmopolitan city, and the second most important after Florence. These laws granted freedom of residence, trade and religion, plus tax exemptions and political protection to merchants from all over the world. The “free port of Livorno” became a multiracial and multi-religious centre, attracting amongst others a large Jewish community.
Foreigners continued to pour in, and Livorno (Leghorn), became a bustling city and a favourite destination on the Grand Tour in the 18th and 19th century. Sadly, it was turned into a Fascist naval base during WW2 and was heavily bombed.