The merchant of Venice

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This is a post about Via Borra 35, Palazzo Huigens. Unfortunately this nocturnal image is the only photo of the exterior in my archives, and it shows mainly Via Borra 29, which is the Palazzo della Colonne di Marmo, the most elaborate and impressive facade in the whole of Venezia. But that is another story. Anyway, you can see Palazzo Huigens to the right, with a simple balcony and high window lintels.

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The front door is almost always open, so let’s go in and continue in daylight. Nowadays this palazzo is used as offices by a number of companies. But in the olden days it was owned by one merchant, who would have his private quarters here, as well as his business offices and storage space.

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One step further brings us out into the courtyard. This palazzo was built in 1705 for the merchant Antonio Huigens. I don’t know anything about him, but he must have been a quite important bloke. In 1706 the Grand Duke Cosimo III de’ Medici visited his home, and three years later the king of Denmark, Frederick IV, stayed here while courting a noblewoman in Lucca.

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See the “graffiti” from 1705? I wonder who BM was…

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Looking up you might notice two things: The courtyard is actually still without a roof and therefore open to the elements. And the walls are embraced by narrow and slender balconies, supported by almost ridiculously thin brackets.

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But although they look delicate, at least they were strong enough to carry me, and here’s the proof!

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Lots of details to look at, despite the clean, almost austere decor.

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A stark contrast to the subdued courtyard colour scheme are these heavily decorated rooms.

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I was invited in to have a look at some of the old ceiling paintings and stucco ornaments (original or not I couldn’t tell) in an arcitecht’s office.

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Enjoy the sneak peak!

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Downstairs again.

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Time and weather has worn down the feet of the Tuscan columns. Is it just me or do they make you think of elephant feet as well?

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Through the courtyard, there is a large and beautifully vaulted space. It is now used as parking for cars, but it used to be a warehouse, with immediate access to the canal behind the door.

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Here is the backside of the palazzo, with the prosaic rusty metal shutter indicating the entrance to the garage.
There would also have been – and maybe there still is – a passage from the canal under the street via this “water gate”, for easy unloading of goods from boats.

There we have it – a peek into everyday life of the upper class of Livorno around the year 1700. And this history lesson is free for anybody to take part of, every day! At least at the bottom floor.

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The barriers

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The Leopoldine wall was built around Livorno in the 1830’s. Its purpose was never of a military nature, although it was used as defense against the Austrians in 1849. But the wall was constructed for customs reasons and to limit smuggling.

The wall originally stretched for about 7 kilometres around the city and here we’ll see what its gates and barrieri look like today, along with some historic photos.

(A barriera is a wide wall opening, defined by twin buildings facing each other on each side of a street, sometimes connected by a roof structure.)

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  • Barriera Garibaldi (or Fiorentina)

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We start at the northeast barrier. The old road to Pisa runs past this obelisk and Piazza Barriera Garibaldi.

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One of the few places where the Leopoldine wall is still standing, leading to Porta San Marco.

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  • Barriera Margherita

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Across the city, at the soutwest end, we find Barriera Margherita, which was the railway station for the Pisa train, before the fairytale villas were built in Viale Italia.

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  • Barriera and Porta San Marco

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The north outpost is the imposing gate of San Marco with its lion on top. The left part of the barriera at the end.

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And the right one, continuing with the wall leading to the Dogana d’Acqua.

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  • Barriera del Porto

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Only one of the two mirroring buildings of the port barrier remains. Via del Molo Mediceo.

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  • Dogana d’Acqua

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The water customs, which used to control the water way to Pisa. Destroyed by WWII bombs, it is now an area undergoing dramatic changes with bold architectural ideas.

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There were also other barriere which have been demolished:

romaBarriera Roma, Viale Nazario Sauro

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maremmanaBarriera Maremmana, Piazza Matteotti

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vittorioemanueleBarriera Vittorio Emmanuele, Viale Carducci

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marePorta a Mare, Piazza Luigi Orlando

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collinePorta a Colline, Via Antonio Gramsci

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Cork and go!

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Although supermarkets are practical, it’s got to be nicer to buy your wine in a small enoteca like this.

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Where you can get advice and information about the wines, as well as a good chat.

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In this place near the Piazza Grande you can also get your local wine poured from a tap, bottled and corked while you wait.
There are two types of red: dry and medium dry, and the price for one 0.75 cl bottle is just over 2 euros.
If you bring the bottle back for a refill, it’s even cheaper!

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I just had to try their tap prosecco as well. Or frizzante, which is white wine with gentle bubbles.
I guess it means the cork won’t fly.

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Still, he secured the cork in the traditional way. Just in case :-)

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