In 1577 the first stone of Livorno, the city founded by the Grand duke Francesco I de’Medici was laid. As part of the project of the architect Bernardo Buontalenti, from whom the sovereign had commissioned the design for a new city for his realm, Livorno was destined to be something new and innovative. It was designed to become the great maritime emporium of the Grand Dukes of Tuscany, a way for the Medici family to gain military and commercial dominion over the Mediterranean.
But it would fall to Francesco’s brother, Ferdinando I de’Medici, who would subsequently accede to the throne of Tuscany, to populate this new city. With that goal in mind, between 1590 and 1593 Ferdinando issued a series of special laws which later became known as the Livornine Constitution.
The first version of the celebrated Livornine Laws, or legge livornine, were directed primarily at the Jews, who were the key to commerce with north Arica and the orient, and who would discover in Livorno that which they would come to call “the New Jerusalem.” Thanks to the many privileges granted by the Livornine laws, Livorno was the only city in Europe which could claim the distinction of never having had a walled Jewish Ghetto.
Later these privileges would also be extended to the Greeks, Armenians, experienced mariners, cunning English navigators, powerful Dutch merchants, and many others. Besides fiscal concessions, the Livornine Constitution offered religious protections which guaranteed all the possibility of practicing their own faith. It was an extraordinary feat for the period.
The Medici family, with its own influence and diplomatic powers, was able to defend its “creation” from the Inquisition, which attempted to put a stop what it considered heretical multi-faith coexistence. In contrast to other port cities which also hosted minority foreign communities, Livorno’s exceptionalism lay in the fact that its foreign inhabitants were not simply temporary guests. They were part of the foundation of the city, and were the heart and the driving force of the Medici’s project. Often foreign merchants had key roles in the city government of that Tuscan gateway to the sea. The exceptional cosmopolitan environment of the port city regularly encouraged inter-marriage between families of various nations. It was all this that in 1700 prompted the famous French philosopher Montesquieu to call Livorno one of the best experiments ever attempted by the Medicean dynasty.
The foreign communities in Livorno were called the Nations, or Nazioni, each represented by a consul and regulated by their own internal statutes. Besides being a free port, and later a neutral port, these nations would which would transform Livorno into one of the foremost entrepôts of the Mediterranean, surpassing the ancient maritime commercial powers of medieval Italy such as Genoa and Venice.
Visitors will also rediscover Livorno’s traditions in its famously delicious local cuisine and vivid folklore. Its history lives on in its inhabitants, who are warm, welcoming, and well-known for their esteem of liberty and individuality. The Livornese keep one foot planted in the ancient traditions of Tuscany, but have their minds and their gaze turned to the horizon, toward distant shores.