Although the port of Livorno was already well-established in medieval times, the small settlement numbered only around 700 inhabitants when the town was bought by Florence from Genoa in 1421. Livorno represented a strategic point for the Florentines, especially since their port of Pisa, a short distance to the north, had begun to silt up.
Napoleon occupied Livorno three times between 1796 and 1800, with the intention of ruining the port’s chances of competing with Marseilles, and of seizing the wealth belonging to the British community in the city.
After the French occupation, the Lorraines were returned to power and under their rule the city of Livorno was extended, with the building of new gateways and squares, public buildings such as the Goldoni Theatre (originally called the Teatro Leopoldo) in 1847, and churches such as San Benedetto in 1819, the Anglican church of St George in 1844, the Presbyterian St Andrew's in 1849, and the Dutch-German Church in 1864.
In order to populate his new city, in 1591-2 Grand Duke of Tuscany Ferdinando de’ Medici passed a series of laws, known as the Leggi Livornine, primarily intended to invite Sephardi Jews fleeing persecution in Spain and Portugal to settle in the city. The laws guaranteed religious tolerance, as well as financial benefits to those who set up business in Livorno, thus encouraging foreign merchants from all over Europe to settle here.
In 1865 a man called Luigi Orlando founded what was to form the basis of Livorno’s economy well into the 20th century. The Luigi Orlando Shipyards marked a turning point for the city, transforming its identity from a commercial to an industrial one. By the beginning of the 1900s the shipyard already employed around 2000 people and was to achieve worldwide fame as a builder of military and commercial vessels. Other industries also grew up in Livorno, and the port adapted to the new industrial century.