Visiting Turin, The Italian Gem
If you like city breaks and are partial to cultural tourism; you can’t go wrong with Italian cities. Whilst Rome, Venice and Florence may spring immediately to mind (and they are fantastic places to visit), another Italian gem that does not get as many column inches as those three is Turin.
Turin, or Torino, to give it its unanglicised name, is a beautiful city with an amazing array of cultural wealth. If you are like me, you leave Turin after a visit with every intention of going back at some point in the future.
I first visited Turin ‘accidentally’ as I was attending a conference. I was fascinated and had to go back for a ‘proper visit’
On Offer in Turin
You are arguably likely to get a more comprehensive description of Turin’s attractions from a dedicated commercial site promoting travel to the city. However, what you are getting from me is an unvarnished personal account of my own experience of the city complete with personal photos.
Architecture, Piazzas, Museums and Churches
Like all Italian cities, Turin’s splendour is mainly in the form of the breathtaking Baroque and Rococo architecture seen almost everywhere in the city.
Piazza and Palace
National Cinema Museum
Once in Turin, you can’t miss the magnificent Mole Antonelliana which houses the National Cinema Museum. The building itself towers over the city and the promotional leaflet says when it was completed in the 19th century and at 547 feet (167 metres), it was the tallest building in the whole of Europe. The Cinema museum itself is mind-boggling in its reach. If you expect it to be covering Italian cinema exclusively you will be wrong. It is a museum for world cinema and the sheer number and variety of cinema history artifacts will leave you mesmerized. Promotional material says there are over a quarter million original film posters, over 10 thousand film reels and thousands of original items used on film sets going back to the silent era. If you are a cinema buff, this is nirvana. This is supposed to be the best stocked and largest cinema museum in the World.
Once you have
had your fill of cinema history, don’t pass up the chance to take the elevator
which sits bang in the middle of the enormous building. The clear-glass elevator
whizzes to the top of the building in less than a minute and delivers you to
the observation deck. Here you get a completely uninterrupted 360°view of the
city, what with the Mole Antonelliana being easily the tallest structure in the
city. There is always a queue for the elevator but it is worth the wait. Plus, once you go back to your hotel, take out your camera at night to get the view of this magnificent structure at night. Wherever you are in Turin, the Mole Antonelliana is visible in all its illuminated magnificence.
Egyptian Museum (Museo Egizio)
I have never been to Egypt so going to Turin with its famous Egyptian museum was a good opportunity to get to see what ancient Egyptians had to offer this world and, let me tell you; I was not disappointed. The Egyptian museum in Turin is claimed to house the second largest collection of Egyptian antiquities (the largest being the Cairo museum in Egypt itself) and it is easy to see why. You really have to get there to take in the full extent of what is on display, from huge and intact pharaonic statues, stone sarcophagi, actual mummies retrieved during excavations in the early part of the 20th century to ancient books. There is even a small temple complete with funereal objects. There are so many relics that it requires hours to get full value of the visit. If you are interested in this sort of thing and it is truly stunning, then after Egypt itself, Museo Egizio in Turin is without doubt your best option.
There are many palaces in Turin but, regrettably, we had time to visit only two of these but, boy, what a sight! The Palazzo Reale sits proudly in all its imperial grandeur. This is supposed to have been a royal residence until less than 150 years ago. This was the time when Turin was the capital of the united Italy (before the capital was moved to Florence and later Rome). The interior decor oozes royalty and you get a chance to visit the Throne room as well as the dining room, complete with the splendor of its royal past. We also saw the Palazzo Madama which is even grander in size. This is supposed to have been converted into a royal palace almost 600 years ago but the building dates from the 13th century. The name comes from the fact that it was home to ‘Madame Royale’ Maria Cristina, daughter of King Henry IV of France who married the Duke of Savoy (Victor Amadeus I) in the early 17th century. She lived here before moving to the Palazzo Realle mentioned above where she spent over 30 years.
In any Italian city, if you walk to take in the views (highly recommended), you can’t fail to be impressed by the impressive piazzas (squares). In the spring sun, they are magnificent and tranquil, even with the hundreds of visitors about. Italy has got plenty of these and magnificent they are too. The Piazza Statuto is one. Apart from the sense of space and the ever impressive architecture around, the art is impressive. We were also quite impressed by the Piazza San Carlo. In fact the Egyptian museum mentioned above is on one side of this square and two baroque churches on the two other sides with one side open.
I’m afraid I am not a tourist shopper but enjoyed walking through the beautiful arcaded shopping promenades
Superga cathedral: This magnificent church (the local guide insisted on calling it a basilica) is on the city outskirts atop a hill. You can take an antique tram to the cathedral. Apart from the splendour and tranquility of the church, the views of the city and surrounding mountains from here are magnificent.
Shroud of Turin
This famous (and controversial) christian relic is housed in the city. We did not visit the church where it is stored because you don’t get to see it. That to us removed the motivation but if you want to be close to it whilst it remains deep in the vault then you will need to visit the Turin Cathedral.
It is difficult to capture the spirit of a vibrant city in words based on a week’s visit. It is however the case that Turin is a truly magnificent gem that I enjoyed visiting and will do so again. There is so much to learn, take in in wonderment and have a really good time. The cafes are magnificent and the food wonderful. I never got to visit the River Po which is another fine attraction so that is chalked in for next time. Oh, and did I mention Turin is home to one of Europe’s greatest football (soccer) clubs Juventus? There is Torino too. So, if that is your passion, you can get to visit Juventus’ home (Stadio delle Alpi) and may be get to see a match. Turin is also known as the Detroit of Italy. I’m sure you can guess why. While the real Detroit has stumbled of late, Turin goes from strength to strength.