Turin: The Home of the Savoy

Turin has most recently been in the news for hosting the 2006 Winter Olympics, but it has much more to boast about than that. It is the capital of one the largest provinces in Italy, with a population of 908,000 just within the city. Turin is located in the Piedmont region, near the French border, and is an easy trip from many places including Genoa, San Remo, Alessandria and Milan. Situated under some of the tallest Alps, it lies along the Po River, and is known as the birthplace of the Italian State, solid chocolate, vermouth, and the FIAT Corporation.


Turin was first settled in pre-Roman times by the Taurini peoples, then later became a Roman outpost in the first century. During the middle ages it continued to grow, becoming the Countship of Turin in 942. In 1050 it was inherited by the Savoy family, one of Europe’s most ancient ruling families, and became part of their Duchy although they allowed it to be ruled by Bishop Lords for the following centuries. The city grew steadily, building its university in 1404, which was attended by Erasmus himself. Not until 1563, after defeating the invasion of Phillip II of Spain, did Emanuele Filiberto of Savoy move his capital from Chambéry to Turin, and rule the entire Piedmont region with absolute power.

The Savoys filled the city with palaces, porticos and piazzas, all symbols of their rule, making Turin a political center and a Baroque show place. In 1713 the family also claimed the title of King of Sardinia, making them one of the most powerful families on the peninsula, and later leading them to help unite and rule the Italian Nation. It was in Turin that the first ideas of the Risorgimento were born, leading to the unification of Italy in 1862, and the crowning of Vittorio Emanuele II as the first King of the Kingdom of Italy. For strategic reasons, the king moved the capital of his new nation first to Florence and then on to Rome, finding Turin a bit too close to the French border for comfort. While this initially led to riots, Turin soon found itself important again as the birth place of Italian industry with the establishment of the FIAT Company in 1899.


Main Sights


Piazza Castello

If you like palaces and royalty, be sure to visit Turin’s main piazza which is designed to emphasize the power of the Savoy family. This is where one finds the Palazzo Reale, the royal palace and home of the Savoy family. Construction on it was begun by Emanuele Filiberto I and it remained the family’s main residence until the capital was moved in 1865. One can tour the opulent rooms within which include the King’s Throne Room, the Queen’s Apartments, and the Chinese lacquered study. Behind the palace are the royal gardens, or Giardini Reale, French styled formal gardens with sculptures, fountains and lanes that were designed by Andrè le Notre at the end of the 17th century.

On the piazza one also finds the Palazzo Madama, an older palace that dates back first to Roman times, when it began as a door in the wall of the city, Porta Decumana. Later it was converted in the Middle Ages into a fort, and finally in the 15th century it was transformed into the royal residence of Marie Christine of France and her daughter-in-law Joanne Batiste of Savoy Nemours. The Savoy family resided there until the newer Palazzo Reale was built. On one side is a Baroque façade, but from the other, the Medieval elements are evident.

Nearby is Turin’s cathedral, the Duomo di San Giovanni, which was built in the 15th century. Within one finds the world famous Shroud of Turin, a treasure brought from Chambéry by Emanuele Filiberto I in 1587. It is believed to have been in the Savoy family since 1453, when they bought it from the decedents of a knight who was known to have had it as early as 1356. The shroud bears an image that seems to be a crucified man, many of whom believe to be Jesus of Nazareth. While science debates if it authentic or a medieval forgery, the faithful continue to believe. If you want to know more about the research that has been done on the Shroud, be sure to visit the nearby Museo della Sindrone which is located in the basement of the SS. Sudario, a church built in 1753. Here one finds extensive displays on the history and scientific studies of the shroud.


Quadrilatero Romano

Like many Italian cities, Turin still has examples of its ancient past. Not far from the Duomo, one finds the ruins of the 1st century Teatro Romano. Not far away are the remains of the Porta Palentina, the old Roman door to the city which would have been built into the city wall and in which the guards would have lived. It has two 16 sided towers, and two large doors for carts and two smaller doors for people to pass through. It is considered an important example of how Roman gates were built. Nearby in the old royal greenhouse is housed the Museo dell’ Antichità, whose collection includes Greek and Italiot pottery, Etruscan bronzes and urns, sculptures from the Hellenistic and Roman periods found at sites around Piedmont, and articles from the Paleolithic period through the Middle Ages.


Palazzo Carignano

This palace was commissioned to Guarino Guarini in 1679 by Prince Albert Amadeus of Savoy and it was here that both Charles Albert and King Vittorio Emanuele were born. The second wing was added later in 19th century. The palace has a baroque façade with Doric columns below and Corinthian columns above. It now houses the Museo Nazionale del Risorgimento which includes a large hall where the first Italian parliament met and declared Vittorio Emanuele II the first king of Italy on March 14, 1861.


Palazzo dell’Accademia delle Scienze

One should be sure to visit the Museo Egizio that is housed in this palace that was once a Jesuit college. It is considered the most important Egyptian collection outside of Cairo. It all began as a personal collection by Carlo Emanuele I back in 1628, but then was later added to by other Savoys, leading to the opening of the first Egyptian museum in 1824, with additions made after expeditions in the 20th century. The collection is extensive and includes a 13th century BC black granite Ramses II, a reconstructed temple of Ellessya dating from the 15th century BC, and a 14th century BC tomb of an architect and his wife, also fully reconstructed, which even includes the food that had been left for them in the afterlife. There are also plenty of mummies, models of funeral processions and wooden boats, jewelry and clothes, paintings and statues. The collection is extraordinary and is worth a visit.

In this same palace one finds the Galleria Sabauda, an amazing art collection and a testimony to the heritage of the dukes and kings of Savoy. Within are works collected by different Savoys from Charles Emanuele I to Charles Albert, with works such as Madonna and Child by Beato Angelico, a Flemish collection that includes works by Van Dyck, Jan Brueghel, and Rembrandt, and more recent works by Poussin and Claude. If you like fine art, you may also want to visit the Accademia Albertina, whose collection includes works by Filippo Lippi, not to mention wonderful examples of Flemish tapestry and cartoons by Gaudenzio Ferrari.


Mole Antonelliana

This unique building was begun in 1863 by architect Alessandro Antonelli to be used as a synagogue, but when funds ran out, it was taken over by the city and built to honor Vittorio Emanuele II. It stands about 167 meters tall (549 feet) and offers a fabulous view of Turin and the Alps. While the building has an almost classic facade, the four sided dome rises up in to a glass pyramid. The unusual design of the building has become a favorite landmark of Turin and is even used on the Italian 2 cent Euro coins. Within is housed the Museo Nazionale della Cinema, dedicated to the history of moving images and film.



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