Equally elegant and hip, the Piedmont capital of Turin is one of Italy’s most surprising cities. Fanciful tree-lined avenues lead to art deco cafes and Renaissance, baroque, rococo, and neoclassical facades. Splendid art galleries and opera houses serve as the cherished repositories of northern Italian culture. And public squares, neatly tended gardens, stately castles and grand palaces that were built between the 16th and 18th centuries recall Turin’s heyday as the glittering capital of the House of Savoy. Gate 1 Travel’s new Discovery Tour, Cinque Terre, Parma, Bologna & Lakes, unveils its many treasures.
Turin was built on the prosperity of the House of Savoy, the longest ruling dynasty in all of Europe (1003 to 1946). The scope of their territory ebbed and flowed over the course of their reign, comprising lands that today straddle the borders of Italy, France and Switzerland and at various points stretching to Sicily, Sardinia, Spain, and other parts of Italy. During much of that time, their power was concentrated here, in Turin, and their legacy endures.
A glimpse at the Royal Palace of Turin, built in the 1500s under the Savoys, gives you an idea of how much power the dynasty wielded. This magnificent baroque building on the Piazza Castello is a splendid showcase of tapestries, historic weaponry and stunning Chinese and Japanese vases. Most notably, the famous Shroud of Turin – the linen cloth believed to bear the image of Jesus – is housed in the palace’s Cathedral of St. John the Baptist. This historic treasure was in the Savoys’ possession from 1453 to 1946.
But Turin holds more – many more – royal remnants, and they have jointly been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site as the “Residences of the Royal House of Savoy.” You will see another, the Palazzo Madama, adjacent to the Royal Palace. This grand structure with its ornate façade was the seat of the first Senate of the Italian Kingdom.
Turin’s many piazzas evoke the spirit of those found in Rome – they are at once grand and gracious and utterly designed for Italian citizens. Piazza San Carlo, the most popular, has been called the “Italian Living Room” for the many events that are staged here, including segments from the 2006 Winter Olympics, when the city hosted the Games. Nearby, Piazza Carol Alberto is another point of pride for the Torinesi: it hosts the prestigious National Library, the former apartment of philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, and an imposing equestrian statue of King of Sardinia, Carlo Alberto of Savoy.
Today, Turin is known to many Italians as the “Cradle of Italian Liberty” as it was the birthplace of many who contributed to Italian unification. It is also celebrated as the home of car manufacturer Fiat and since 1964 has been home to the internationally-renowned choc-hazelnut spread, Nutella.