We were up bright and early and after enjoying our second socially distanced breakfast in the hotel’s restaurant we were ready to go. Our original plan for the day was to take the train to Lucca but on discovering that replacement buses were operating on the route with a reduced timetable, we decided to change our plans.
A quick look at the map and a day at the seaside appeared a good alternative so we bought tickets to Livorno just a quick fifteen minute train journey and a snip at only €2.60 each for a single ticket. Livorno lies on the western coast of Tuscany overlooking the Ligurian Sea and is one of the largest ports in Italy with both commercial and cruise line terminals. Despite Livorno being a frequent port of call for cruise ships most of the passengers see very little of the city and instead opt to visit either Pisa or Florence which is a shame as we were soon to discover that the city has plenty to offer.
The station lies on the outskirts of the town resulting in a 20 minute walk to the centre. Bus No.1 operates between the station and Piazza Grande but it was an easy level walk and didn’t seem to take us very long to reach Fortezza Nuova (the new fort) surrounded by the ancient city walls. Although many of Livorno’s beautiful buildings were destroyed during the Second World War there still seemed much to see.
The fort has protected Livorno since the 1500’s and was built as an addition to the defences of the city serving as a second fortification alongside the old fort. It features a series of pointed battlements and is surrounded on all sides by the city’s canals.
This district is known as Nuova Venezia (New Venice) as there are numerous canals in this part of the city. It was really beautiful and did remind me of Venice with its narrow waterways and boats chugging along. It’s a maze of interconnected canals which were built during the 17th century using Venetian methods of reclaiming land from the sea and so lovely I was stopping constantly to take photos. Before visiting I was aware that Livorno was a large port but I had no idea about its photogenic canals.
Our walk continued along the banks of the central canal and then crossed the stone bridge on Via della Venezia. Few people were about on the Sunday morning of our visit but those that were could be seen on the water as little boats were continually passing by.
Spotting a small supermarket, we called in for some chilled water then crossed the road to sit on the stone steps in front of the cathedral in Piazza Grande to rest for a few minutes. The cathedral of San Francesco was completed in 1606 but had to be re-built after the Second World War. We would have enjoyed viewing its interior but it was closed to visitors.
There seemed no end to the delightful small canals and overlooking yet another pretty one was the Central Market (Mercato Centrale) housed in a vast neo-classical building and operating since 1894. It is the largest indoor market hall in Italy containing 34 shops and over 200 stalls selling meat, fish, poultry, fruit, vegetables, bread etc. and open Monday to Saturday between 8.00 a.m. and 1.00 p.m. Sadly closed on Sundays otherwise I would have definitely enjoyed a wander around its stalls.
From the market hall it was then just a short walk to the seafront from where we could see the huge dockside cranes at Porto Mediceo. We’d enjoyed a glimpse of historic Livorno as it was before the port of Livorno developed into one of the most important in the Mediterranean and one of the busiest in Italy. We had now reached the newer part of the city where the port stretches from the small boat harbour by the modern aquarium to the opening of the canal which eventually flows into the River Arno. The port has both commercial and cruise line terminals but the majority of tourists see little or nothing of Livorno and instead board coaches to the more famous sights of Pisa or Florence. However, with its beautiful coastline and numerous historical sights, I would recommend a visit.
A Moby cargo ship was just departing, heavily laden with containers and in the distance we could see numerous cruise liners, currently out of service due to the pandemic. From Livorno there are regular passenger ferries to Sardinia, Corsica and Sicily. I’ve only visited Sicily but would like to also visit the others at some point. Walking along Livorno’s promenade overlooking the Ligurian Sea was an absolute delight, there is very little in the way of sandy beaches but sun worshippers were sprawled out on rocks and platforms built out along the coast.
There are also several Bagni along the seafront which are Italian beach clubs providing sun loungers, parasols, beach huts and some even with their own swimming pools. These seemed popular with locals who are able to purchase season tickets to enjoy the facilities. It was actually in Livorno that Europe’s first ever beachfront bathing establishment appeared during the 19th century with several of the original Bagni still in use today including Bagni Pancaldi.
Continuing slightly further south, we reached Terrazza Mascagni an elegant black and white stone paved terrace jutting out into the sea. Along there we enjoyed some breathtaking views out to sea as we strolled along. There’s also a handsome bandstand dating from the early 1930’s and I can only imagine how lovely it must be to sit on one of the benches surrounding it listening to some live music.
Another beautiful building is the Grand Hotel Palazzo which overlooks the bay and the Terrazza. It must be a delight to stay there and to be able to relive an era when Livorno was a very popular resort among European High society and travelling was a real art.
It was then a long, long walk back to the railway station for our train back to Pisa. Fortunately we spotted an inviting little cafe along the way where we rested our legs whilst enjoying slices of cheesecake and pots of tea. Back in our hotel room, we reflected on our pleasant few hours in Livorno with its old fort, canals and attractive waterfront and we were really glad that we had decided to visit.
The sun was still shining brightly, so after a short rest we set off to see Pisa’s most famous landmark, its Leaning Tower, located across the river in the Piazza Dei Miracoli (Square of Miracles).
The campanile, a free standing bell tower of the cathedral is known the world over for its lean. The impressive tower which stands almost 56 metres tall began to lean during its construction in the 12th century due to the soft ground which could not properly support the weight of the building. By 1990 the tilt had reached 5.5 degrees but has since been stabilised by remedial works to 3.95 degrees.
Although the leaning tower is the most famous landmark, do take time to visit the adjacent medieval cathedral which is stunning with its multicoloured marble, mosaic and bronze exterior. Visiting the lavishly decorated cathedral is free of charge but tickets are required to enter the Campanile and Baptistry.
The Piazza dei Miracoli is flanked by Pisa’s old city walls which were constructed from 1154 to protect the cathedral and defend the city. The medieval walls have been restored and it’s now possible to view the city from a height of 12m along its 3km length. We didn’t go up onto the walks ourselves but did walk through the entrance gate which was quite touristy with numerous vendors selling replica leaning towers, t-shirts and other souvenirs. It was good that these stalls were tucked away from the piazza so as not to detract from the historic buildings.
Later in the evening we both enjoyed pasta dishes on the terrace of Leonardo’s cafe/restaurant near the hotel on Piazza Vittorio Emanuele II which turned out to be a lovely way to end our third day in Pisa.
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