We’re often asked how to make the most of a brief opportunity to see Europe’s cities. Here’s a detailed answer for a little known “hot spot:” Turin (Torino to Italians).
As the capital of Italy’s Piedmont region, Turin represents one of three “capitals” of Italy. Rome is the classical heart, Milan the commercial center, and Turin the first diplomatic and industrial capital. It was Turin and the Piedmont that gave birth to modern Italy through the political philosophers Count Camillo Cavour and Giuseppe Mazzini.
Turin, with its roots in the historic Savoy dynasty dating to the 11th century, was Italy’s link to royalty throughout Europe and, at the same time, the core of the modern Italian state. The Kingdom of Italy was founded in 1860 and the House of Savoy ruled over the peninsula until 1946 when the monarchy was exiled and Italy declared itself a Republic in 1948.
Today Turin is pre-eminent among Italian cities as the industrial capital and nostalgic home of Italy’s royal family, a family which now lives in exile mainly in Spain. Because of Turin’s regal past and its proximity to France, the Piedmont acts as a cultural border region between France and Italy, combining the more refined culinary arts of France with those of Italy. The Piedmont is also the premier wine region of Italy, featuring Barolo, Italy’s most famous “noble wine.”
Turin sits on the banks of Italy’s principal river, the Po, which flows north at this point. A Roman settlement, the Romans placed Turin (Augusta Taurinorum) on the Po at the confluence of a major tributary, the Dora Riparia River, which flowed east from the French and Piedmontese Alps. On a clear day, winter or summer, Turin is dominated by a broad and almost 300º arc of snow-capped Alpine peaks including the Ligurian Alps to the south, the various French Alpine chains to the west (the Maritime, Cottian, and the Graian Alps), and the Pennine Alps to the north, most famous for the Matterhorn which is on the border between Italy and Switzerland (the Matterhorn is called Cervino in Italian).
Turin’s urban geography was dominated by the rectangular grid of the Roman city through the middle ages and into the late 16th century. Today you can identify the historic center by the dense network of rectangular city blocks in the area west of the Madama Palace along the Via Garibaldi. As Turin began to grow as a duchy and then as capital of the Savoy dynasty, royal planners kept the regular street pattern, enhancing it with long, straight boulevards punctuated with formal piazzas and squares often named for members of the royal family.
This article was prepared by Rick with input from Paola’s nephew (Massimo) who has family ties to the Piedmont region.