Do not be fooled, the only thing in common between Livorno and Venice are the canals. But the harbour city has a compelling history and some nice monuments, as well as a beautiful seafront terrace.
Livorno development is linked to the rise of the Medici during the XVIth century. They wanted to take advantage of the place for military and commercial reasons. Buontalenti was then commissioned with the construction of a new fortified city with fosses and bastions you can still see today.
At the end of the XVIth century, Livorno began to house a large Jewish community till it became one of the most important of Italy.
It is still an important Italian port.
During WWII, the organization of resistance activities in and around Livorno was made difficult by a poor area of wooded vegetation and close to roadways. To avoid any risk of resistance, the Germans evacuated the city center both by bombing and by fear of possible hostile acts by the population in the hypothesis of an allied landing. This is why the city was placed under the status of the "Black Zone", the famous "zona nera."
The black zone comprised the historical center, the industrial zones, the Naval Academy, some coastal and inland areas. The Livornesi had only ten days (initially eight) to leave their homes and given the scarcity of means of transport they were forced to abandon most of their belongings. A large part of the population was already displaced, however, and following the declaration of the black zone, even those residing outside the designated area were advised to evacuate. During that time, their homes were looted by the Germans.
The so-called Nuova Venezia (New Venice) was built during the 17th century. It still preserves some of its original features, such as the Medicean Fossi, a network of navigable canals connecting the warehouses and homes of merchants which, like those in Venice, had entrances at water level leading to rooms where goods were once stored. There are also many religious and civic buildings in the area. It looks a bit shabby but it is a safe area.
It does not look like it but Piazza della Repubblica is in fact a bridge covering a long stretch of navigable canal. It is borded by beautiful buildings.
There are some nice sculptures in the city, the most famous being the Quattro Mori, a landmark marble & bronze statue commemorating Ferdinand I's victories over the Ottomans.
The Fortezza Nuova is the best preserved fortress of the area. Near the city centre, it is free to visit.
The Fortezza Vecchia is on the old dock of the port of Livorno. It is the older of the two fortresses and it countains the medieval Mastio di Matilde tower, built by Pisa during the 11th century. The entrance is also free.
Like everywhere in Italy, there are many nice churches through the city.
Some still bear the stigma of WWII bombing.
The Terrazza Mascagni offers splendid views of Gorgona and Capraia, two islands of the Tuscan Archipelago, even and Corsica. With its dramatic black-and-white chessboard-style pavement, the terrace itself is an architectural wonder and sunset watching is a must-do.
After Terrazza Mascagni, you can continue your visit along Viale Italia, where you will find beautiful pastel-coloured Art nouveau villas. The scenic route continues as far as Quercianella.