The port city of Novorossiysk in Russia has been twinned with Livorno since 1967, but after the 1980s and the era of Perestroika ties were more or less forgotten. The only trace of the once thriving relations between Livorno and its Russian counterpart on the Black Sea seems to be the small one-way street – Via Novorossiisk [sic] - tucked away in the Coteto district of Livorno, making a strange contrast with the surrounding streets, all named after the regions of Italy.
Relations between Italy and Russia have always been traditionally strong, both on the political and cultural scenes, and in 1946 the Italia-URSS association was set up to promote cultural exchange between the two countries. In 1958 the USSR reciprocated with the creation of a similar body called URSS-Italia. Livorno, the city where the Italian Communist Party was founded in 1922, was probably just as keen to form ties with a Russian city, and the fellow port city of Novorossiysk was a fitting partner.
Relations between the two cities seem to have thrived for several years and links were formed between a school in Novorossiysk and one in Livorno. Delegations from Livorno went to Novorossiysk on more than one occasion, the last of which appears to have taken place in March 1979. The head of that delegation was the then local councillor for education, Edda Fagni (1927-1996) (who, coincidentally now also has a street in Livorno named after her). Accompanying Ms Fagni were two other councillors, Rocco Pompeo and Fabio del Nista, as well as two members of the Livorno branch of the Italia-URSS association Mario Baroni and Aladino Macchi (?) (names transcribed from the Russian newspaper article).
In Novorossiysk, however, these historic relations with Livorno have not been forgotten. Five years ago, conference interpreter and italophile Irina Voskresenskaya set up a small group in the city dedicated to Italian language and culture. As well as learning Italian and organising a variety of events, from commemorating the birthdays of prominent Italians, to cheese and wine tastings, the group (which includes doctors, teachers, accountants, designers, businessmen and pensioners) has kept a firm eye on what is going on in Livorno.
In fact, in 2011, the year of Italy in Russia (and Russia in Italy), Irina’s club organised an exhibition about Italy at the city museum. This featured several displays specifically about Livorno (see left).
And when Filippo Nogarin was elected Mayor of Livorno in 2014, Irina encouraged and translated a letter of congratulations from the Mayor of Novorossiysk, expressing the wish that cultural relations with the people of Livorno should be renewed. The letter received a positive reply from Nogarin, which Irina translated once again for their mayor.
In addition to its modern ties with Livorno, Novorossiysk has some interesting historical links with Italy. In the 13th and 14th centuries, for example, it was an important Genoese colony and trading post, and in the 19th-20th centuries, a group of Italian workmen helped to build a railway tunnel in Novorossiysk.
There are a number of tombs in the city belonging to Italians who worked in Novorossiysk, and it is Irina’s group that looks after them.
There are also a few "mysteries" that the group would like to solve.
One of these regards one of the members of Irina’s club who descends from an Italian family and is trying to find out more about her Italian origins. As far as she knows, her grandfather was Nicolò Stambacchio, a seaman whose vessel was wrecked near Novorossiysk at the end of the 19th century. He managed to get to shore and remained in the city, got married and was even elected onto the city administration. Family legends say he was from Livorno or Trieste, but documents still have to be found to prove this.
The second dates from the early 20th century when the port workers of Genoa decided to render assistance to the city. They collected money, bought medicine and food and delivered it to Novorossiysk on board the m/v "Amilcare Cipriani". The delegation was headed by Clodaldo Binotti who had a son called Biagio. Some documentation about this is on display in the Novorossiysk city museum. Attempts to contact the Genoa archives for any further documents have so far been unsuccessful.
It would be very interesting to find anyone in Livorno who remembers the times when the Livorno-Novorossiysk 'gemellaggio' was in its prime, and even more so to be able to revive cultural links between the two cities. Irina, who visited Livorno some years ago when the Livorno-Novorossiysk twinning was already greatly weakened, is keen to forge new links and to develop a new relationship with the people of Livorno. Anyone interested in contacting Novorossiysk's Italian cultural club, please get in touch!
Livorno is also twinned with the cities of Bat Yam (Israel), Guadalajara (Spain), Haiphong (Vietnam), and Oakland (USA). In 2014 a motion was put forward to establish a twinning with Gaza, but this was subsequently discarded.