What About Livorno…
A guest post from our beloved friend Sarah Thompson, blogger at “Livorno Now“
The youngest of the Tuscan towns, Livorno, grew up around a flourishing harbour and by the 17th century was a melting pot of nations, its communities of English, French, Swiss, Greek, Dutch, Jewish and Armenian merchants helping the city to grow into one of the most important commercial ports in the Mediterranean.
How, I wonder, did they all communicate?!
These days, I think it is safe to say that the Livornese, the people that resulted from such a multi-cultural history, are great communicators, even if they sometimes speak no language than their own.
Local people will go out of their way to help and advise visitors (sometimes without even being asked): just try getting on a bus and asking a fellow passenger for any kind of local information – I can practically guarantee that the whole bus will get involved in the probably heated discussion!
Historically speaking, the city has strong ties with its Florentine founders, the Medici Grand Dukes, but contemporary Livorno stands out from the rest of Tuscany in a way that is difficult to explain.
True, it is distinguished by being the only large port in the region, and the only city to have a network of Medici canals and TWO splendid Medici fortresses, but Livorno’s unique character is defined by something else; it has something to do with the contrast between the old and the new, with the ever-changing light that penetrates the city centre from the wide seascape, and with the gritty appeal of its old quarters, like Borgo and Venezia.
The Livornese are different too: an inventive people, used to getting by when times are hard, and famous for their irreverent sense of humour, their laid back nature and love of life in general, characteristics which you quickly come to appreciate as a foreigner here.
While tourists in Florence and Pisa are looked on with indifference by the locals, visitors to Livorno are viewed with curiosity.
In fact, it is the perfect place to come to study the Italian language, because you will never be short of an opportunity to practice what you learn with the local people, in the shops, at the market, at your local bar and, of course, on public transport.
Learning English, on the other hand, has long been a popular, though often troublesome pursuit with Italians, not least the Livornese.
When I arrived in Livorno twenty-five years ago, Centro Linguistico Agorà was already well-established in the city and became one of my first employers.
The school offered me a wide range of experience teaching adults and children, groups and individuals, in their friendly environment where both working and learning went beyond the walls of the classroom.
The sociable nature of the school and its ‘extra-curricular’ programme was, and still is, an aspect much appreciated and enjoyed by everyone involved.
Livorno will never be a famous tourist destination like its grander Tuscan cousins, but I like to think of it as a place for travellers, not tourists; a destination for discerning Italophiles who can appreciate the city’s unique character and want to stay a while to get to know it better.