Sometimes, reading what travel bloggers write about a place I also have visited is so strange. It seems like their imagination is much richer than mine. That is what I feel reading about Turin, the capital of Piedmont, Italy.
The first example
They write: Piazza Vittorio Veneto is an enormous Baroque style square that slopes down to the river with a difference in altitude of seven meters, and is considered the biggest in Europe. It was used for grandiose military parades, including those in the times of Mussolini.
I see: A big rectangular space crossed by numerous motorways, stuffed with traffic lights, streetlights, and powerlines, and surrounded by houses with fronts which have seen better days. The view of the river is mediocre.
The second example
Piazza Statuto is the black heart of mystical Turin. In Roman times, this western sundown part of Turin was considered a “bad” place occupied by a hostile power.
Irina, my wife, refused to visit it in the evening. Moreover, our visiting of Turin coincided with the full moon. I even didn’t know about it, but no problem, we went there at noon and saw a modest square rather like a boulevard where young mothers with baby carriages strolled along numerous benches occupied by well-groomed Italian old folks sitting in the sun around a fountain, a “sinister monument” to Lucifer.
Probably, it would be worthwhile to visit this “mystical” place at night.
Chiesa Gran Madre Di Dio. According to some esoteric authors, this church is a place of power, home to nothing less than the Holy Grail. The exterior of the church is very different from others from an architectural standpoint. Its dome brings to mind the Pantheon in Rome.
It’s interesting that, unlike others, Chiesa Gran Madre Di Dio is not a property of the Church. Nevertheless, one Pope visited it, which is confirmed by a bronze plate inside the church.
The staircase leading to the church has two statues: Religion (with a cross) and Faith. An index finger of the latter is broken. At one time, it pointed to the place where the Holy Grail was hidden.
Irina said the aura of that place was undoubtedly good. While she was absorbing the aura I meticulously explored the Faith statue, and now, I totally know where to excavate for the Holy Grail. But it will be necessary to open up the asphalt.
Travel bloggers’ information about Turin as the most fashionable city of Italy, superior to Rome and Milan in this sense, and where every citizen looks like a model from a podium, has also not been confirmed. The same with the notion that every second citizen speaks French.
So let’s wake up and smell the coffee.
Pros and cons of the capital of Piedmont
The first pro is a compact historic center, despite the fact that Turin is not a small city. From the district of Porta Susa, where we stayed, it was easy to get to every attraction in 30-60 minutes on foot. Thanks to arched galleries stretched along many of buildings (like ones in Bologna) you are able to do it even in heavy rain and not get your feet wet if you learn a route in advance. Verified and confirmed.
The second and biggest pro is the inimitable architecture. I have never seen such a beautiful collection of facades in one city.
Here, we cannot help but recall the main “perpetrator” of this beauty, Filippo Juvarra, while, of course, he had helpers and followers.
Filippo Juvarra (1678- 1736), the famous Italian architect, worked in Turin in the beginning of the 18th century by invitation of the Duke of Savoy. Thanks to him, the city obtained remarkable architectural samples of Baroque and simultaneously lost all the Gothic buildings.
We don’t know how Turin looked like before Filippo Juvarra, but after his work, the city was worthy of becoming the first capital of united Italy, reflecting beauty and luxury.
Filippo Juvarra was born in a family of goldsmiths and engravers, and apparently had a congenital sense of beauty. He was interested in architecture since childhood, but prepared to become a priest. Nevertheless, at the age of 25, he went to Rome to the school of the famous Italian architect Carlo Fontana who once studied with the great Giovanni Lorenzo Bernini. Maybe you know that most beautiful fountains of Rome was made by Bernini.
In short, Turin could not help but become beautiful. In his projects, Juvarra often mixed Baroque and Classicism, which is obvious even for a layperson.
The newly minted architect immediately started to realize an ambitious project, Basilica of Superga (1714). Later, in 1721, he reconstructed one of the facades of Palazzo Madama, turning it from a grim medieval castle into a piece of Baroque art. However, three ancient corner towers were preserved.
That is not the only building with two different facades in Turin. When Juvarra was one year old, his predecessor, Guarino Guarini (1624-1683), started to build Palazzo Carignanо. Constructed of dark brick, it was notable for its unusual squiggly facade from Piazza Carignano.
Two hundred years later, the palace got one more facade on the opposite side, from Piazza Carlo Alberto. It is snow white and beautiful. We don’t know who made it, but the inspirer is obvious: Palazzo Madama. It seems like Juvarra had a talented follower.
Later, the Duke asked Juvarra to build a hunting lodge near Turin, and the next wonder, Palazzina di caccia di Stupinigi, was born. If you saw it, you would never think that this was just a hunting lodge.
La Galleria Grande in Venaria Reale, a royal country residence, is another work of the master. As you can see a gifted architect is able to impress you even without using gold, just white color and nothing more.
Walking around Turin and looking at its buildings, I was always recalling another city: Riga, Latvia, more precisely its Jugendstil (Art Nouveau) quarter created by Russian civil engineer and architect, Mikhail Eisenstein. Read: A Walk Along the Jugendstil Quarter: Mikhail Eisenstein—the Gaudi of Riga
There was so much in common in the decoration of the facades with statues and faces. Why? Mikhail Eisenstein was born 190 years after Juvarra.
Filippo Juvarra was a disciple of Carlo Fontana who also had students from Germany, the Netherlands, Austria, and Great Britain. Probably, during his travels to Europe Mikhail Eisenstein saw their works and was impressed by them.
Turin is the capital of Italian Art Nouveau also known as Liberty. Interesting buildings are spread over this big city, therefore if you don’t have much time, investigate the living district of Cit Turin near Corso Francia Street, unexpectedly elegant despite the neighborhood of the Porta Susa railway station.
Here are some addresses
Corso Francia 23. Palazzo della Vittoria or La Casa dei Draghi was built in 1918-1920 in Neo-Gothic style on the draft of Gotthard Gussoni.
Via Principi d’Acaja 11. Casa Fenoglio-La Fleur was built in 1902 by Pietro Fenoglio, as his residence.
Pietro Fenoglio was also the author of two other beautiful buildings in the capital of Piedmont, Villino Raby and Villa Scott. Villino Raby or Palazzina Raby (1901), a luxurious mix of Belgian and French style of Liberty, is located on Corso Francia 8 near Principi dʼAcaja metro station. However if you want to have a look at the wonderful Villa Scott on Corso Giovanni Lanza 57, you will have to cross the city.
Via Pietro Piffetti has several interesting buildings.
In this quarter, on Piazza Benefica, you can’t miss a Neo-Gothic church La Gesu Nazareno and a beautiful Art Nouveau building by Giovanni Battista Carrera (1912) at the corner of Via Palmieri and Via Duchessa Jolanda.
There are a few remarkable buildings in the quarter of Crocetta, for example, a mansion in vines on the corner of Piazza Carlo Alberto Dalla Chiesa and Corso Duca d’Aosta not so far from Polytechnic University. Irina had her heart set on a white house on Via Giuseppe Galliano 6.
In the same district, you will find equally spectacular apartment buildings like Casa Maffei on Corso Rodolfo Montevecchio 50. It’s famous both for the quality of the frescos showing a women, a bird by Giovanni Battista Alloatti, and an iron balcony. Another work of art is the house on the corner of Via Madama Cristina and Via Vincenzo Monti.
What about cons of Turin?
They are tiny, and you have read about them at the very beginning of the post. We explored Turin for two weeks. Probably, it’s too much, since its museums do not compare in any way with those in Rome or Florence. Nevertheless, Turin is worth visiting, but no longer than 4-5 days.