English poet Robert Browning wrote: Open my heart and you will see, engraved inside of it, ‘Italy’.
Torino (Turin in English) lies at the foot of the Alps, in the northwest corner of Italy, bordered by Switzerland to the northeast and France to the west. It is the capital of the Piemonte region, one of 20 regions in Italy. Within these regions are 107 provinces or ‘institutional bodies of second level’. Piemonte is the 2nd largest region in Italy and Torino is 4th largest city in Italy with a Current population of ~850,000.
The bull dancing on its two hind legs is one of Torino’s symbols and one we spotted this cutie everywhere. Torino means ‘Little Bull’ in Italian.
There are also about 800 small green drinking fountains placed throughout the city, each with a bull head or ‘toret’ on them. The first was installed in 1862 and these cast iron or stone torets are especially cherished by locals. There is even an iToret app to help locate the nearest fountain.
We often spend our last day in a city walking past favorite scenes saying farewell, but this month we saved the Royal Palace, Google’s highest rated tourist site in Turin, for our final experience before saying addio.
In the heart of Turin’s historic district lies the beautiful Royal Palace along with an Archaeological Museum, the Sabauda Art Gallery, Royal Gardens and Royal Armory that we wrote about last week.
The palace was built in the mid-16th century and the baroque architecture and design elements were added during the mid-17th century renovation. The palace rooms are each decorated in the extravagant baroque style that invites your gaze to bounce from one resplendent vignette to the next. When we walked into the ballroom, it was easy to imagine we could hear the sounds of a formal ball, with the dancer’s shoes quietly shuffling along on the wooden floor, baroque music playing and the murmur of conversations in the background.
The Sabauda (the ancient spelling of Savoy) Gallery exhibits primarily Flemish, Dutch and Italian paintings from the 15th to the 17th century and we saw some wonderful artwork.
Cattedrale di San Giovanni Battista
In the square next to the Palazzo Reale is the Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist. It was built in 1491-1498. The Chapel of the Holy Shroud was added to the Cathedral in 1668-1694. The Chapel was built to house the famous Shroud of Turin.
The Shroud of Turin is a linen cloth with an image of a crucified man on it and is believed, by some, to be the authentic burial shroud of Jesus Christ.
The earliest historical record of the Shroud of Turin dates from 1353 or 1357. Records are clear however since 1453 when the Shroud was deeded to the House of Savoy. The Shroud of Turin stayed in the possession of the House of Savoy for 530 years, until in 1983 the family gifted it to the Vatican.
The original Shroud is rarely on public display, however there is a meaningful artwork that can be seen during most visits.
Basilica of Santa Maria Ausiliatrice
While there was an excellent reason to experience the Shroud of Turin in the Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist, The Basilica of Our Lady Help of Christians took our breath away. This Neoclassical Basilica was built 1865-1868, originally as a home for orphans and has a number of gorgeous chapels inside.
Turin seems to have more than a few symbols of the city but the largest representative has to be the Mole Antonelliana. A version of the silhouette of this building was used for the official 2006 Winter Olympics material. The Mole is also depicted on the Italian 2-cent Euro coin but we have yet to find one.
The building was meant to be a synagogue and it was built 1863-1889 by the Italian architect, Alessandro Antonelli (1798-1888) but he died just prior to its completion. Today it is the location of the National Museum of Cinema and it claims to be the tallest museum in the world at 548 feet tall (167 m).
The photo at the top of this blog is the beautiful Mole Antonelliana framed in autumnal colors.
Museo Nazionale del Cinema
This museum claims that the first 2-hour movie ever filmed was made in 1914 in Turin. There were earlier movies made but none of this length and it was exported worldwide. The acclaimed movie was ‘Cabiria’ and the original poster is below.
We enjoyed this motion picture museum housed within the Mole Antonelliana tower. There is an excellent chronological progression of cinema from its origins to the present time. This 5-story, 35,000 square foot museum “has a rich heritage of nearly 1.8 million works including films, archival documents, photographs, equipment and objects of art, posters, movie memorabilia, books and sound recordings, in a collection considered among the more valuable in the world.” Our one critique was the museum seemed poorly lit; many of the scenes and venues were difficult to see.
In the center of the museum is a glass elevator that ascends up 250 feet (75 m), through what looks like far too small an opening in the tower ceiling. It stops at an outside balcony and the 360 degree panoramic views of the city make it absolutely worth the ride.
Turin may be synonymous with Fiat, the car company that Giovanni Agnelli created in 1900 and which today, is a multinational conglomerate.
Turin is also the Italian capital of chocolate. In 1826 a chocolatier, named Caffarel, invented a confection he called Gianduja, after a favorite Piemonte carnivale character. Gianduja is a hazelnut and chocolate combination and is better known as Nutella throughout the world. The story is that during the Napoleonic wars, Turin had difficulty getting enough cocoa beans to create its rich chocolates, so hazelnut paste was added to the chocolate and the rest is history. The original gianduja recipe can still be found in shops everywhere in this city. (without the additives that Nutella uses)
Melt-in-your-mouth gianduiotto chocolates are shaped like ingots, are made with sugar, chocolate and hazelnuts and are perfection. We stopped at Baratti & Milani, a cafe that opened in 1858, and picked up a few pieces and they were definitely our favorite of the various gianduiotto we tried in other shops. A close second were the chocolates at Guido Castagna.
Another chocolate-based Torino icon is the bicerin, a favorite layered espresso coffee, chocolate and chantilly cream drink. Bicerin are typically enjoyed in the afternoon by the locals.
In addition to the sweet chocolate creations Torino also takes credit for inventing the bitter drink Campari, Cinzano (the popular toast cin-cin is from a 1979 Cinzano ad) and for Turin Vermouth. The apéritif culture is alive and well in this city and if you take a late afternoon, early evening stroll nearly every café or bar table will have a patron with a beautifully colored Campari Spritz sitting in front of them accompanied by a handful of complimentary appetizers.
We also discovered the deliciously refreshing Aperol (and Spritz) from Padova, Italy, just 4 hours from Torino.
Gaspare Campari (1828–1882), invented the wonderfully bitter drink Campari. In 1860 he created the drink infusing more than 60 herbs, flowers, roots, barks, fruit peels and sugar into alcohol.
Luigi Lavazza (1859–1949), founder of the LavAzza coffee manufacturers. LavAzza is our favorite Italian coffee roaster and we were pleased to discover it was founded in Torino in 1895. Third and fourth generations of the Lavazza family continue to run the company to this day. LavAzza credits itself with inventing the concept of blending different types of coffee from different geographical areas.
Espresso is both the name of a coffee drink and a method of brewing coffee that originated in Italy. The espresso machine was invented in Torino in 1884 by Angelo Moriondo.
Adriano Olivetti (1901-1960) was an Italian engineer, politician and an industrialist who believed that profits should be reinvested for the benefits of the whole society. He inherited and successfully managed the company his father founded, Olivetti & Company, the Italian manufacturer of typewriters, printers, calculators and computers. Remember Olivetti typewriters?
Addio Torino; we had an incredible month exploring your mystery and your history. We delighted in your tastes and your perfect autumn temperatures. The snow capped Alps in the distance are the picture perfect icing on the cake.
Saluti from these Turinese,
Edoardo + Guilia (Ted + Julia)
- Baratti and Milano
- Memorial Park
- Mole Antonelliana
- Palatine Towers
- The Devil’s Door
- Villa Tesoriera