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. As a result, Livorno became a vibrant, cosmopolitan city, home not only to a considerable Jewish community, but also to Greek, Armenian, Dutch, German, Swiss, French, Irish and British merchants.
These foreign communities, or Nations as they became known, played a major role in establishing Livorno and developing trade there. The history of Livorno is unique in Italy because of the presence and participation of these different Nazioni, although this aspect is often sadly underestimated, particularly by the local inhabitants.
The most obvious traces of these communities can be seen today in the places of worship and cemeteries that each community established during its time in Livorno, as well as in the splendid homes many of them had built.
The 17th-century ‘English Cemetery’ in Via Verdi, for example, is the oldest Protestant cemetery in Italy, and probably in the whole of the Mediterranean area, while the British nation's two churches, the Anglican Church of St George and the Presbyterian Church of St Andrew (both built in the 19th century), still stand on either side of the graveyard. A second English Cemetery lies in Via Pera and dates from the early 1840s. It is still open to burials, though it is in a sad state of neglect and is currently closed to visitors (Jan 2016).
The Dutch-German community left behind a beautiful (but crumbling) Neo-Gothic church, the Chiesa della Congregazione Olandese-Alemanna (Scali degli Olandesi), as well as their own burial ground (Via Mastacchi).
Via della Madonna, a short street in the centre of Livorno, contains the remains of the old Armenian Church, the Greek United Church (facade restored in 2012) and the 17th-century Church of the Madonna with its four altars dedicated to the French, Corsican, Portuguese and Dutch nations once present in the city.
A Greek Orthodox cemetery lies in Via Mastacchi (next to the Dutch-German one).
The original Jewish Synagogue was one of the most important in the Mediterranean but was damaged during WWII and subsequently demolished. There are two remaining Jewish cemeteries in the city, as well as a modern Synagogue (Piazza Benamozegh).
There were many other non-Catholic cemeteries present in Livorno, including one belonging to the Turkish nation, but these were gradually covered over as the city expanded.
The mansions built and/or lived in by members of Livorno's foreign nations include Villa Henderson in Via Roma (home to the Natural History Museum), Villa Bateman (formerly Villa Perti) in Viale Mameli, and Villa Maurogordato in the park of the same name (Via Collinet), to name just a few.