Mark Twain loved Torino’s extraordinarily wide streets, prodigious piazzas and spacious sheltered porticos.
Legend has it that King Victor Emmanuel I (1759-1824) wanted to enjoy his daily stroll through Torino (Turin in English) without carrying his umbrella, and sheltered walkways were born. There are more than 10 miles of porticos that provide protection from the elements for pedestrians and at least half are connected. No matter the weather, one can walk, shop or enjoy a convenient caffe or meal and people watch at one of the many cafés whose tables are tucked beneath the spacious porticos.
An Abridged History
The first settlers that inhabited the area were the Taurini, an ancient Celt-Ligurian alpine people that were known to raise bulls. In 218 BCE Hannibal, leading his Carthaginian army and their elephants, marched over the Alps, and after a 3-day battle the Taurini were captured and their city nearly destroyed. In 28 BCE the settlement subsequently became a Roman camp for 5000 inhabitants, followed by a medieval trading post, the seat of the House of Savoy and in 1861, the first Capital city of the newly unified country of Italy.
There are surprisingly few Roman structures evident in Torino. Of the four original gateways into the ancient Roman city of Augusta Taurinorum, today called Torino, there remains only Porte Palatine, a well preserved Roman Age city gate, that would have granted access through the thick walls into the city.
With Torino’s strategic location at the foothills of the Alps, in addition to being leveled by Hannibal, the city has experienced several invasions by notable figures. The Roman city was destroyed in the civil wars that followed the death of Nero; in the 8th century Charlemagne marched his troops in taking the city; as did Napoleon Bonaparte in the late 18th century.
At the end of the 13th century, the city was annexed to the Duchy of Savoy. Shortly after the University of Turin was founded as well as many of the Palaces. The city walls were expanded when Torino became the capital of the Duchy of Savoy in 1563. Following the Battle of Turin in 1706 the Duke was elevated to King and Torino became the capital of a European Kingdom.
In 1802 Torino was annexed by the French Empire but when Napoleon fell in 1814, the Kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia was restored with Torino its capital. In the following decades, the Kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia and the House of Savoy, led the struggle for unification of Italy against a questionable Pope and the brutal treatment of the Italian people by the dominating Austrians. In 1861 Torino succeeded and became the first capital of the united Kingdom of Italy.
In 1865 the capital of Italy would be moved to Florence and then finally on to Rome in 1870.
The 1871 opening of the Fréjus Tunnel provided an important communication link between Italy and France and we found this striking monument honoring the 4000 workers who built the 8 mile (12.87 km) Fréjus Tunnel by hand. This year the monument had over 15,000 daisies installed on it to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Europe’s oldest tunnel. The flowers are soon to be removed so if you google the Fréjus Tunnel you will see what it usually looks like.
In 1899 Fiat was established in the city, followed by Lancia in 1906. After World War I, harsh conditions brought a wave of strikes and workers’ protests. The Fascist regime brutally ended the social unrest and Benito Mussolini began to subsidize the automotive industry to provide vehicles for the army.
During World War II, Torino’s industrial areas were soon targets of Allied air raids and were heavily damaged. Bombs destroyed or damaged 54% of all buildings in the city.
Following the war, Torino was rapidly rebuilt, primarily due to it’s automotive industry. Fiat, Lancia and Alfa Romeo were headquartered here and the city soon gained its nickname, the Automobile Capital of Italy and the Detroit of Italy. However the oil crisis of the 1980’s reversed the city’s fortunes and with fewer jobs, Torino saw a 25% decrease in its population. That trend slowly began to change and Turin is now ranked third for economic strength in Italy, after Milan and Rome.
Museo Nazionale dell’automobile di Torino
Carlo Biscaretti (1879-1959) was an Italian artist, designer, journalist and early car enthusiast. He began collecting vehicles in 1933 and he founded the National Automobile Museum of Torino which opened just months following his death.
The museum has a collection of almost 200 cars compared to the automobile museum we visited in Malaga, Spain with 100 vehicles on display Malaga City of Museums and the larger automobile museum in Mulhouse, France that has 400 cars in their collection Mulhouse Museums.
It has been awhile since we have been inside a car museum. We love the late 19th century and very early 20th century vehicles and every museum has a few unique finds.
It is unfortunate that more concept cars are not produced. They often have the most interesting designs.
The museum’s collection has some of the first Italian cars produced but we also especially enjoyed the pastel drawings the museum founder, Carlo Biscaretti created. Each painting seems to tell a story.
This palace is named after two queens (madama) from the House of Savoy that each made significant improvements to the property and turned it into the sumptuous royal palace it is today.
In the 1st century the same site was a massive city gate which was used as an exit of the Roman city, Taurinorum. Two of the original towers have been incorporated into the current day palace. During the Napoleonic Wars, after Torino had been conquered, the palace was used as the headquarters of the provisional French government. In the 19th century it was used as the Senate and High Court for the Parliament of the Savoy’s Kingdom of Sardinia and in 1934 it became the Museo Civico d’Arte Antica we visited.
The museum has 4 floors filled with paintings and sculptures from the medieval, Renaissance and Baroque periods as well as rooms full of decorative ceramics, porcelains, majolica, gold and silver works.
Located in the 17th century monastery of Saint Anthony Abbot is the Accorsi-Ometto Museum of Decorative Arts. This sumptuous collection of artifacts by the art dealer and collector, Pietro Accorsi (1891-1982), is divided into 23 rooms, 8 of which are furnished as they were in his Villa Paola.
One room had display cabinets full of porcelain, crystal and mother-of-pearl liqueur services, perfume bottles, jewelry boxes, vases and intricate candelabras. Another room contains silver rococo coffee, tea and hot chocolate pots, dance cards and an ornate silver dish for visiting cards. There was a room filled with Gothic and Renaissance arts; one devoted to 17th and 18th Baroque figures, including the Meissen, Seller of Cupids; one room exclusively displayed a rich collection of majolica ware and the Porcelain room had two complete dinner services sets, one with more than 150 pieces.
The Bandera bedroom refers to the specific type of beautiful Piedmontese embroidery used to decorate the valances and coverings on the canopy bed.
After spending our first week here we have acquired such an appreciation for this city and we no longer think of this, the 4th largest city in Italy, as just the host of the XX Olympic Winter Games.
Saluti from these Turinese,
Edoardo (Ted) + Guilia (Julia)