One of the main thoroughfares in Buontalenti’s 17th-century city, the Via Grande is now one of Livorno’s principal shopping streets. It runs directly eastwards from the old port of Livorno, through Piazza Grande and then on to Piazza della Repubblica. The modern, rather dreary porticoes date from the post-war period, but they offer shade, and shelter from rain while shopping!
The Four Moors - a symbol of Livorno
Beginning at the port end, before you even start down Via Grande you cannot fail to notice the statue standing at the entrance to the Port and known as I Quattro Mori (‘the four moors’) which is undoubtedly Livorno’s most famous landmark.
Behind the Quattro Mori are the remains of the old city bastions, now part of the Gran Duca hotel. The plaque on the wall commemorates the English naval engineer, Sir Robert Dudley, Duke of Northumberland, who worked for the Grand Dukes of Tuscany and played an important part in the development of the port of Livorno.
Just a few yards into the Via Grande are two 17th-century fountains, one on either side of the road. Th ese were ordered by Cosimo II to decorate the statue of the four moors. However, when Pietro Tacca completed them in 1629, Ferdinando II (who had by then succeeded his father) liked them so much that he decided to have them taken to Florence (in fact the originals stand in Piazza Santissima Annunziata in Florence). The ones here in Livorno are copies, one donated by Florence and the other funded by Livorno itself.
Piazza Grande The original ‘grand’ square really was a huge open space in the centre of Livorno uninterrupted by the ugly modern building that now stands opposite the cathedral. Surrounded by marble porticoes designed by the architect Alessandro Pieroni, it represented the centre of the Medici city of Livorno and stretched as far as the town hall (il Comune). The bombings of 1943 caused extensive damage to Livorno, and the only original part of the square is the portico on the north-east side.
The Duomo (Piazza Grande) Livorno’s original cathedral was designed by Alessandro Pieroni and built by Cantagallina.
Church of Santa Giulia - Patron Saint of Livorno (Via Santa Giulia) Right next the the Duomo (on the left when facing the cathedral), this small church is dedicated to the patron saint of Livorno (feast day 22 May). Via Santa Giulia, on which the Church of Santa Giulia stands, leads into the bustling open air fruit and vegetable market in Piazza Cavallotti. The market is held every morning from Monday to Saturday and is a great place to absorb the local atmosphere and to see all the stalls piled with colourful seasonal produce, much of it grown locally. It was in one of the buildings on Piazza Cavallotti (now replaced by the modern building occupied by a bank) that the composer Pietro Mascagni was born in 1863. Close by, Via Coroncina was the birthplace of Giovanni Fattori the well-known Macchiaoli artist.
J ust north of here, along Via Buontalenti, is another of Livorno's outdoor markets selling mainly clothes, shoes and household linen, and across the road Livorno’s magnificent covered food market - the Mercato Centrale.
Back in Piazza Grande, across the square, along the original portico and behind the modern building that stands opposite the Duomo (the one housing the well-known fast-food restaurant), you come into the Piazza del Municipio.
In front of you stand three large buildings, all different in style. On the far left is the loggia-fronted Palazzo della Dogana, or Custom’s House, now home to the Chamber of Commerce of Livorno. It was built in 1648 by Annibale Cecchi. In the middle stands the modern municipal building, and next to that the Palazzo Comunale, or Town Hall, built in 1720 to a design by Giovanni del Fantasia. It was later almostly completely rebuilt after a serious earthquake in 1742, and it was then that the exterior double staircase was added by Antonio Fabbri.
The area that lies behind the town hall of Livorno is known as the Nuova Venezia district and is the historic quarter of Livorno
Proceeding again from Piazza Grande, about a hundred metres further along on the left-hand side is Via della Madonna. This small street is home to three of the churches originally used by members of the different foreign communities living in Livorno in the 17th and 18th centuries:
Armenian church (Church of San Gregorio Illuminatore), the Greek United church, and the Chiesa della Madonna (tel. 0586 889495) just a few metres away from the Greek church, housing altars dedicated to various foreign communities as well as a statue of the Madonna del Carmine. It was designed by Alessandro Pieroni and built in 1598.