Azalealand and Legging it in Leghorn

Our first stop on Sunday was the Azalea festival in Borgo a Mozzano. We have been coming regularly to this for several years. Although still very colourful and worthwhile we did notice a slight muting from last year – fewer visitors, fewer stalls, and fewer displays – the showery weather and the continuing economic crisis clearly did not help.

I was fascinated by old fittings in this shop where I bought myself a shirt:

I enjoyed the Museo della Memoria with archaeological finds and war relics:

Livorno (or Leghorn as it is known among English-speakers) may be Tuscany’s second largest city but is not its second in terms of popularity as a tourist destination. This is a real pity as, in many ways, it is a unique place. It is the first planned port of Italy, founded by the Medici in the sixteenth century to replace silted-up Pisa. It is the most cosmopolitan centre hosting what was once the largest community of Sephardic Jews in Italy and, also, an important English colony which included Smollett (who is buried in the protestant cemetery here), Byron and the Shelleys. It has a thriving artistic and musical past and present: Mascagni and Modigliani both came from Livorno. It has the only cathedral in Italy designed by an Englishman (Inigo Jones, who then went on to build the first renaissance palace in England – the Queen’s house at Greenwich) and it has some of the best liberty (art nouveau) style buildings in Tuscany. Why then is Livorno not packed with foreign visitors? Planned after the renaissance it has none of those buildings which attract people to this region of Italy. As a port it acquired a reputation for low-life and dirt.  Sadly, during WWII its strategic importance meant that much of its historic centre was obliterated by allied bombing which rebuilding contributed to the city’s essentially modern appearance: only the area known as “Venezia” (canals abound here) gives an idea of what Leghorn must have been like before 1944.

We were attracted to the Medicean port through a leaflet advertising “ildìdifesta” (holiday) organized by the Coop. Different events took place in different areas of Tuscany: visits to alabaster workshops in Volterra, stonemasons in Pisa, textiles in Prato and fishing in Livorno (famous for its caciucco fish soup).

Next to embarkation points for Sardinia, Corsica and other mediterranean destinations the old Medicean port with its decayed fortress hosted a fair marquee with stalls ranging from naval recruitment, through pushing electronic cigarettes to scuba equipment suppliers to model boating clubs. It was quite fun and quite packed too.

Our boat trip round the canals of Livorno did not materialize, partly because the weather was unreliable. Instead, we visited the imposing naval academy (normally closed to the public) with its training vessel and giant anchors at the entrance. In one corridor I noticed a large marble plaque displaying all the allied ships the Italian navy had sunk during the last war….

The highlight of our trip to Livorno was a visit to Modigliani’s birthplace where we were given an informative tour on this most approachable of modern painters. Although there is not one single painting by the artist in the house (but there are some interesting “homages” to him by contemporaries) the displays, reproductions and photographs bring the place alive. It is tragic to think that this painter died at only 36 years of age in utter neglect and that his partner was so grief-stricken at hearing news of his death that she threw herself from a balcony the next day, pregnant with their second child. The first child, who was two at the time, only found out later in life (quite by accident) who her dad was. She then decided to investigate further and her research lead to many facts being put straight about him. Our visit was rounded off by a demonstration on how to make the traditional livornese roschette – of Sephardic origin – like a small donut in both sweet and salted forms – which we then savoured and washed down with very good Chianti.

Here are some pictures by Amedeo Modigliani (1884-1920) and photos of him and his lovely girl friend Jeanne Hébuterne (1898-1920) who he proposed to marry, but who committed suicide at 22 the day after he was found dead:

On previous visits to this proud city we saw the wonderful collection of Fattori canvases in the Villa Mimbelli, the aquarium, the Venice quarter, the market and the Montenero sanctuary with its quaint collection of ex-votos. So do not neglect Livorno – it’s quite a revelation (and also has some excellent fish restaurants too!).

9 thoughts on “Azalealand and Legging it in Leghorn

  1. Pingback: Leghorn or Livorno? | From London to Longoio Part two

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  6. Pingback: My Flower is at Borgo a Mozzano | From London to Longoio (and Lucca and Beyond) Part Two

  7. Pingback: Borgo Blooms Again for its Azalea Festival – From London to Longoio (and Lucca and Beyond) Part Three

  8. Pingback: Borgo is ‘My Flower’ – From London to Longoio (and Lucca and Beyond) Part Three

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