Livorno, English traditionally Leghorn, is a port city on the Tyrrhenian Sea on the western coast of Tuscany, Italy. It is the capital of the Province of Livorno, having a population of approximately 161,000 residents in 2011.
Livorno was designed as an "ideal town" during the Italian Renaissance, when it was ruled by the Grand Duke of the Medici family. Major additions were designed by the architect Bernardo Buontalenti at the end of the 16th century. The Medici port was overlooked and defended by towers and fortresses leading to the town centre.
In the late 1580s, Ferdinando I of Tuscany declared Livorno a porto Franco or free port, which meant that the goods traded here were duty free within the area of the town's control. To regulate this trade, in 1590 the Duke's administration established the Leggi Livornine. These laws were in force until 1603, until the beginning of the Counter-Reformation. The laws established a well-regulated market, protecting merchant activities from crime and racketeering, and instituted laws regarding international trade.
Additionally, expanding Christian tolerance, the laws offered the right of public freedom of religion and amnesty from persons having to gain penance given by clergy in order to conduct civil business. The Grand Duke attracted numerous Jewish immigrants, beginning in the late sixteenth century from the expulsion from Spain and Portugal, and extended them rights and privileges; they contributed to the mercantile wealth and scholarship in the city.
Livorno became an enlightened European city and one of the most important ports of the entire Mediterranean area. Many European foreigners moved to Livorno. These included Christian Protestant reformers who supported such leaders as Martin Luther, John Calvin, and others. French, Dutch, and English arrived, along with Orthodox Greeks. Meanwhile, Jews continued to trade under their previous treaties with the Grand Duke. On 19 March 1606, Ferdinando I de' Medici elevated Livorno to the rank of city; the ceremony was held in the Fortezza Vecchia Chapel of Saint Francis of Assisi.
The Counter-Reformation increased tensions among Christians; dissidents to the Papacy were targeted by various Catholic absolute rulers. Livorno's tolerance fell victim to the Wars of Religion. But, in the preceding period, the merchants of Livorno had developed a series of trading networks with Protestant Europe, and the Dutch, British, and Germans worked to retain these.
At the end of the 17th century, Livorno underwent a period of great town planning and expansion. Near the defensive pile of the Old Fortress, a new fortress was built, together with the town walls and the system of navigable canals through neighborhoods. After the port of Pisa silted up, its distance from the sea was increased and it lost its dominance in trade. Livorno took over as the main port in Tuscany.
The more successful of the European powers re-established trading houses in the region, especially the British with the Levant Company. In turn, the trading networks grew, and with it, Britain's cultural contact with Tuscany. An increasing number of British writers, artists, philosophers, and travelers visited the area and developed the unique historical ties between the two communities. The British referred to the city as Leghorn.
Through the centuries, the city's trade fortunes fell and rose according to the success or failure of the Great Powers. The British and their Protestant allies were important to its trade.
During the Napoleonic Wars of the early nineteenth century, the French prohibited trade with Britain, and the economy of Livorno suffered greatly. The French had taken over Tuscany in 1808, incorporating it into their empire. In 1868, Italy succeeded in its wars of unification, and Livorno and Tuscany became part of the new Kingdom of Italy. Livorno lost its status as a free port and the city's commercial importance declined.
Livorno suffered extensive damage during the Second World War. Many historic sites and buildings were destroyed by bombs of the Allies preceding their invasion, including the cathedral and the synagogue. A new synagogue was designed and built starting in 1958 and reflects contemporary styles. Livorno's loss of influence as a port led to economic decline into the 21st century; it is one of the poorest northern cities of Italy.