Capital city of Piedmont
Cold, misty, industrial – the popular idea of what they call ‘Fiat City’. Yet Turin is a regal place, the first capital of Italy, and it has the capital equipment of squares, colonnades and wide flowing streets where islands of historic buildings alternate with islands of greenery. Magnificent churches and palazzi adjoin elaborate parks and gardens. On Via Roma, the city’s axis, a line of marble pillars from Piazza Castello to Piazza Carlo Felice is the facade for rows of cosy shops and piole, traditional Piedmontese bar-restaurants. The city itself is like that: warm and cosy behind a superficial hauteur.
The sightseer’s route is from the Egyptian Museum (the best in the world outside Cairo, see www.museoegizio.it/en/) to the Royal Armoury (www.piemonte.beniculturali.it/armeria-reale), the snow-white Palazzo Madama (the French polish on Turin’s life and character gives its dialect madama instead of signora; see www.palazzomadamatorino.it/en), the Royal Palace with its famous ‘scissors’ staircase (www.piemonte.beniculturali.it/palazzo-reale), the eccentric Mole of Antonelli, a Baroque fantasy originally intended for a synagogue (now part of the Museo del Cinema, see www.museocinema.it/mole), and the Renaissance duomo (www.duomoditorino.it/en/). On the altar in a black marble chapel of the Duomo lies Christendom’s most controversial relic, the Holy Shroud in which Christ’s body, it is claimed, was wrapped.
The Sabauda Art Gallery (www.museitorino.it/galleriasabauda/index.html) has a rich selection of Flemish and Tuscan works. The surrealistic Gallery of Modern Art is strong on such 20thC masters as Modigliani, Picasso, Klee and Chagall (see www.gamtorino.it/en). Arts and sciences are combined in the high-tech crystal, steel-framed Palace of Labour, built by Pier Luigi Nervi for the Union-of-Italy centenary in 1961.
Turin was the cradle of Italian car manufacture and its annual motor show is a major event. Another vast modern streamlined building, this time in marble, houses the motor car museum (www.museoauto.it/website/en/) which covers the whole history of road transport from a steam-driven landau of 1854 and the first Fiat car of 1899 to the most advanced models. Do not miss the river promenades and adjoining gardens and fountains (especially the Twelve Months fountain in the Valentino park). For a farewell view of Turin, stand on the bridge at Piazza Vittorio Veneto and look along the Po, which here is already a broad, placid river. On its banks and beyond the palaces, spires and campanili shine like jewels in the sun or pierce the evening mists.
Eight km east of Turin the Superga Basilica (early 18thC, see www.basilicadisuperga.com/en/) was built to the designs of Juvarra, after Prince Victor Amadeus II of Savoy had studied the French battle lines from the hill in 1706 and vowed to erect a church if Turin was liberated. Rich in frescos and mosaics, the basilica is at 670 m. From its balustrade you overlook the whole chain of the Alps.