Livorno, so important to the commerce and culture of Tuscany, would come to be called “the key to our state” by the grand dukes. On the 28th of March 1577 – deemed an auspicious date by the court astrologers – the first cornerstone of the famous Pentagon of Buontalenti was laid. Between the 1600s and 1700s the city would be enriched with the construction of the New Venice quarter. With its canals and bridges the Venezia Nuova seemed to evoke many of Leonardo da Vinci’s concepts from his treatise on the ideal city. This quarter was and remains situated between two imposing Medicean fortresses and other bulwarks, and because of its canal networks, visitors to the city often referred to it as “little Venice”.
There are only four ideal Renaissance cities of completely new foundation in Italy, but Livorno, besides being of the greatest dimensions, was the only one to gain lasting success. Unlike the other “ideal” cities, Livorno remained not simply a laudable experiment, but for centuries flourished as one of the most important cities in the Mediterranean, just as the prescient Medici family of Tuscany had foreseen. Over the centuries Livorno, its piazzas, and its fortifications were often taken as models for many other European cities. For example, Piazza Grande inspired Inigo Jones’ design for Covent Garden in London, and was also a model for the Place Dauphine in Paris. Livorno continued to expand in the successive centuries with the construction of enormous piazzas, such as Piazza Repubblica, which is actually Europe’s widest bridge erected over Livorno’s largest canal, and other notable landmarks such as the grand central market, the Mercato delle vettovaglie, and the stupendous 19th century seaside promenade, a popular destination for Europe’s aristocracy in the 18th and 19th centuries.