There has been a considerable Jewish community in Livorno since the 17th century, at one time representing 10% of the population. At a time when the persecution of Jews was taking place elsewhere, Livorno represented a haven where people of the Jewish faith could practice their religion freely, build their own synagogue, buy property and, most unusually, were not confined to a ghetto. All this because of Ferdinando I de’ Medici’s invitation to Jews to come and settle in Livorno where he realised they could be beneficial to the development of this newly established town. The conditions he offered proved attractive: in 1601 the Jewish community in Livorno numbered 114, and by 1689 it had increased to 3000.
An increasing number of highly skilled Jewish merchants and entrepreneurs settled in Livorno, specialising mainly in textile and glass manufacturing, as well as in the working of coral , sugar refining, tobacco and paper production , and the distillation of spirits. In the 19th century most of the books in the Mediterranean area were printed in Livorno and the most famous printers were Jewish, like the Sadun and Belforte families. The synagogue that was built during the 17th century was one of the finest and well-known in Europe. Sadly, it was badly damaged during WWII and, instead of being restored, was replaced by a modern synagogue in the 1960s.
Famous Jews from Livorno include artists Amedeo Modigliani, Vittorio Corcos, Ulvi Liegi, and the writer Guido Bedarida who died in 1962.
Visiting Jewish Livorno
The Synagogue in Piazza Benamozegh can be visited by appointment, so be sure to arrange this before you arrive in Livorno. The modern building was designed by Jewish architect Angelo Di Castro and contains a beautiful 17th-century Haron which was presented to Livorno by the synagogue in Pesaro.
To see the old furnishings from Livorno’s original 17th-century synagogue you need to go to the Yeshivà Marini museum in Via Micali (also by appointment only). The exhibits include a noteworthy wooden hekhàl, works of embroidery and objects made from coral.
Two of the original four Jewish cemeteries still survive today: one in Viale Ippolito Nievo which dates from 1840 and contains the tombs of Elijah Benamozegh, Israel Costa, the Montefiore and Belforte families, and the Attias family chapel. Recent restoration work (2015) has seen repairs to the boundary wall and the entrance gate.
The most recent Jewish cemetery in Livorno, and one that is still active, is the "Lupi" Jewish cemetery, dating from 1901. It was designed by Adriano Padova and contains a number of 17th-century tombstones that were moved here from the older cemeteries that have now disappeared. It contains the Chayes family mausoleum and the tomb of Rabbi Elio Toaff.
Works by the Jewish artists living in Livorno in the 19th-20th centuries can be seen at the Fattori Gallery housed in Villa Mimbelli. Modigliani’s birthplace, on the other hand, is at the beginning of Via Roma, just near Piazza Attias, and can be visited every morning from 10.30am to 12.30pm (5 euros).
Jewish Cemetery in Viale Ippolito Nievo (Bus number 2 & 2R)