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Livorno Canal Tour Review – Marveling at Medici-born Cosmopolitan Vibes

By Amy Munice with Photos by Peter Kachergis

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If you live in a city like Chicago, New York, LA, Miami or similar it’s likely that somewhere in the mix of why you like your hometown is the accessibility of other cultures in your midst.  When your city is a magnet for people all over the world, you can often get a small taste of travel just by going to one or another restaurant, usually cheap and cheerful.  

After all, isn’t it the people coming to live there from all over the world that typically makes a “world-class” city “world-class”?

With this in mind, even a brief visit to Livorno on the Etruscan Coast of Italy will likely make you marvel at its history of being one of the first truly “world-class” cities on the map.  Taking the Livorno Canal tour we learn how its history as an important port city seeded mixed culture cosmopolitan ways, and how the Medici policies ensured that Livorno would be the important global city that it was.  

Your tour is in a relatively small boat—holding perhaps 20 fellow tourists—and lasting about an hour as it weaves in and out of the canals that first served as defensive moats for the city. 

The story of how Livorno, a one-time resort town, has been a magnet for many cultures dating back to Medici times is the main takeaway of the tour.  Called “The City of the Nations”, its canals are lined by merchant houses built by rich traders from many places – Denmark, England, Germany, Switzerland, etc. What trade alone didn’t do to create this cosmopolitan vibe the Medicis did, for example by not only sanctioning freedom of religion but also building a synagogue for its Jewish population that hailed originally from Spain and Portugal.

If you get a guide as good as ours, Ursula Pareti, you will in short order get a feel for this historic city, Tuscany’s third largest, and its importance as a commercial center.  Livorno was the first city to import chocolate, for example.  Red Livornese coral was fashioned by women artisans from Pisa into much sought after jewels.  You see ramps to the water everywhere, and learn that they were built to help transport items like smoked salted fish.  These canals are called the “Venice Corridor” because artisans and engineers from Venice who were savvy about how to build on water were brought in.

 

The streets above the canals are peppered with the palaces of major traders, plazas and statues that also speak to the city’s history. Though our schedule didn’t allow it, it also seems a history-rich place to spend a day on foot exploring.  For example, in a short walk with Sabina Vitarelli of the sumptuous estate Tenuta Insuese Bellavista nearby Livorno, she showed us street lamps fashioned by her father and grandfather that were ornate and beautiful enough to be chandeliers in a grand opera house. 

 

You’ll see big boats today on some wharves that are lifting cargo containers in and out.  This reminds that Livorno still plays a role in commercial shipping and this somewhat gritty industrial feel might take away the charm for some.

If you are a history buff, however, this will likely not matter.  If you speak Italian Livorno would be doubly inviting as a thriving theater scene, though we heard that this also includes dance and music at times where language barriers are not an issue. 

Like much of the Etruscan Coast Livorno seems to be relatively undiscovered by Americans.  Take a look at many guide books, for example, and you’ll find barely a page on Livorno.  Those books need a rewrite.

For more information on Livorno canal tours and other Livorno attractions contact

La Strada del Vino e dell'Olio Costa degli Etruschi, (+39) 0565/749768.

To reach Ursala Pareti, President of the Legal Tour Guides Association, regarding a canal tour call (+39) 3392471523 or visit the Guide Storiche Livorno e Toscana website.

 

 

 

   

Published on May 01, 2015

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