12 good reasons to visit Torino

There are several reasons to include Torino in your bucket list and, as per every other big European cities, it would take me very long to list them all. Therefore I decided to pick the attractions that, from my point of view, are the best ones to stimulate your decision.

The city was the first capital of united Italy (for a very short time between 1861 and 1864), however it was the capital of the duchy of Savoy at first, then of the Kingdom of Sicily, then of Sardinia and eventually, the of Italy.

1 – The largest food market in Europe

You can find interesting food markets in every big city in Italy and in Europe: just think about the Borough market in London or Marché Bastille in Paris or Mercado de Santa Catalina in Barcelona. However, the biggest one in Europe is located in Torino, right in the middle of the city and its name is “Porta Palazzo”. Located in the wide Piazza della Repubblica, the market covers an area of more than 12 acres (50.000 m2 ) and includes both open air and closed areas. In the outdoor space you can find vegetables both from local farmers and the world, while under the so called clock-roof, butcheries, bakeries and general grocery items are found. It deserves a visit for the lively atmosphere and the cultural melting pot it displays.

The Porta Palazzo Market – Torino. Photo by Matteo Gazzarata

2 – The tallest non-residential building in the world.

Who said that tall buildings are a prerogative of the USA or the recently renovated skylines of Dubai or Shangai? In Torino you can still see the tallest non-residential building in the world: the Mole Antonelliana. It was originally conceived as a Jewish temple but it never covered such task. The construction came to a halt because the architect (Alessandro Antonelli) kept modifying the original and approved project in such a way to make it impossible for the local Jewish community to understand the final shape (and the cost) upon its completion. The Municipality finished the construction in 1888. With an height of 167.5 m (549 ft), it houses the National Museum of Cinema, displaying relics from several well-known movies such as E.T. and Star Wars, as well as costumes, posters and an experiential approach to special effects. Don’t forget to also get on the crystal lift running in the empty space of the dome, heading to the panoramic terrace halfway to the top for a nice view above the city and the Alps. (not for those who get vertigo)

The Mole Antonelliana – Turin. Photo by Matteo Gazzarata

3 – The largest Egyptian collection in the world.

The Egyptian Museum of Torino opened its doors to visitors in 1824, long before the Cairo museum. Located in a noble palace in the very heart of the city, few steps away from the elegant Piazza San Carlo, the collection counts on more than 35.000 relics on display, covering a timeframe of approximately 5000 years. From the early ages of the Egyptian culture to the era of Cleopatra and beyond, the museum displays sarcophaguses, mummies, dioramas, funeral masks and even a small temple donated by the Government of Egypt. The statuary hall allows a full immersion in the Egyptian culture displaying statues of Pharaohs such as Tutankhamon, Sethi II, Tutmoses, and even the very impressive statue of Ramses II surrounded by several statues of the Goddes Sekhmet. Don’t forget to take a look at the large collection of Books of the Dead. The longest one, found in a sealed tomb discovered in 1906 by the director of the Museum (Ernesto Schiaparelli) belonged to the Royal Architect named Kha.

4 – Ten Royal Palaces

Many first time visitors (including several Italians) are not fully aware of how powerful the former Italian Royal family was. It’s not because they were richer than other Monarchs but because they controlled the Alpine routes for centuries, thus stimulating the jealousy of other Kings and an incredible number of military attempts to take possession of their territory, all of which ended up in failure. The Savoy (that’s their family name) celebrated their glory and displayed their power by building an incredible number of royal residences, called the “crown of delights”. It’ actually a group pf 14 palaces, all of which listed by UNESCO within the world heritage. Out of the total number, 10 are located in the city and its hinterland: The Royal Palace, The Castle of Moncalieri, The Castle of Valentino, the Castle of Rivoli, the Carignano Palace, Palazzo Madama, the Queen’s Villa, the Hunting Lodge of Stupinigi, the Palace of Venaria Reale and the Mansion of La Mandria. I am not aware of any other city housing the same number of royal residences, but if you are, let me know.

The Ballroom at the Royal Palace of Turin. Photo by Gabriele Merlo

5 – Contemporary Art

Although I am not mad about contemporary art, Torino is its undisputed Italian capital. One of the former Royal Palaces, which underwent an unfinished project to transform it into an Alpine Versailles, has been turned into the local Contemporary Art Museum: the Castle of Rivoli. Located just outside the city boundaries, in the Municipality of Rivoli, the Castle is home to a huge permanent collection and a set of temporary exhibitions usually displayed in the so-called “long wing” of the Palace. Artistic expressions of international masters are displayed here, such as Sol Lewitt, Maurizio Cattelan, Daniel Buren, Gilberto Zorio, Lawrence Winers and Richard Long just to mention some… However, contemporary arts in Torino are all around the city. You have to walk nose up sometimes to see some hidden installation such as the “Eco” here below, by Marc Didou.

Marc Didou’s ECO. Torino. Photo by Matteo Gazzarata

6 – Historic Cafès

There is an interesting book called “Historic Places of Italy” which lists of all the businesses, city by city, that are still working since at least the past 100 years. Torino is a good destination for those who love sipping a coffee, a tea, a hot chocolate, or having an aperitivo, sat in the tranquil old-fashioned atmosphere of a cafè that opened its doors hundreds of year ago. You have plenty of choices here: Mulassano, Baratti & Milano, Caffè San Carlo, Caffè Torino, Al Bicerin, Platti and Caffè Fiorio. Make yourself comfortable, order a traditional biscuit or a bignè, sip your drink, close your eyes and imagine men and women dressed in 1800s costumes sitting just beside you.

Private Room at Caffè Fiorio 1757. Torino. Photo by Gabriele Merlo

7 – The Capital or Art Nuveau

What is commonly referred to as Art Nuveau, Modernismo, or Jugendstil, in Italy is called “Liberty”. Such name is due to an interior decorator who was used to buy the wallpapers to restore apartments at Liberty Mall in London. Although such style was the “trend” everywhere at the turn of 1800s into the 1900s, it is in Torino that such architectural and decorative style is shown at its best. That was the time of the great industrial revolution in Northern Italy, so the new Burgeoisie started showing its status by constructing palaces and villas. Public spaces have been designed also according to the new style such as the amazing “Subalpine Gallery” displayed in the picture here below, opened in 1874 as a Mall with shops located on the 2 levels of this covered passageway.

The Subalpine Gallery – Turin. Phtoo by Matteo Gazzarata

8 – 18 km of covered walkways (portici)

Although the record belongs to another Italian city called Bologna, the city of Torino is home to 18 km (11 miles) of covered walkways commonly referred to, in Italian, as “portici”. Conceived to allow both the Royal Family and the citizens to walk around protected during bad weather days or under a pleasant shade in hot summer days, the portici of Torino cover pretty much the whole city center. They span from the Royal Palace to the train Station of Porta Nuova, from the embankments on the Po river to the Posta Susa Station as well as along the elegant Via Roma, populated by fashion designers’ shops. Just try it and let me know if I am wrong.

The Covered walkway of Via Po – Turin. Photo by Matteo Gazzarata

9 – The Capital of magic

Based to several legends and sayings, Torino is also called the “Magic City”. Whether it is good or evil magic it’s up to you to decide after visiting it, but one thing is true: there actually is a “magic atmosphere” in the city. It might be because of the presence of the so-called Dark angel (see the picture here below) which decorates a huge monument in Piazza Statuto (Constitution Square) also considered by many to hide the gate of hell, or the statue depicting the Catholic Faith, which, according to many, points the place where the Holy Graal is kept. My suggestion is not to bother that much about the legends, just stroll around and an atmosphere of magic will be all around you.

The “winged genius” (or dark angel) in Piazza Statuto – Turin. Photo by Matteo Gazzarata

10 – The Holy Shroud (Shroud of Turin)

This is not a legend at all but what is believed as the most important relic of Christianity. The Holy Shroud (Sindone) is a linen sheet supposedly used to wrap the body of Jesus Christ after the deposition from the cross. In fact, the shade of a man (front and back) on whom the signs of the crucifixion, as described in the Gospels, as visible (after staring at it for a while). Nobody can obviously say if that is actually Jesus or not: several investigations and scientific analysis are still ongoing. However it is the most beloved relic for the Catholic religion and attracts millions of pilgrims from all over the world every time it is publicly displayed. The Shroud fell into the property of the Savoy family in 1453, it was brought to Torino in 1578 and never left the city since. It is kept in the Cathedral and that is why the Archbishop of the city also carries the title of “Guardian of the Shroud”.

Pope Francis before the Holy Shroud – Turin. Photo courtesy of Corriere.it

11 – Torino is a natural movie set

Torino has been the first capital of cinema industry in the world. Although the technology was created in France, by the Lumiere brothers, it is in Torino that the very first movie in world history, called “Cabiria” was filmed in 1914. After that, several studios were opened in the city and productions multiplied. Torino is still today a movie capital. In fact, despite all studios were forced to move to Rome in the 1930s, the city is a natural set for several production both local and international (have you ever heard of a movie called “the Italian Job”?). Due to its magic atmosphere Torino is the favorite set for horror and psycologic thrillers. The Liberty style villa Scott (here below) was used as a set to take a very impressive horror scene by Dario Argento, an Italian director bowed also by Stanley Kubrick, included in his masterpiece called “Deep Red” (Profondo Rosso), entirely filmed in Torino.

Villa Scott. Home of horror movie scenes – Turin. Photo by Matteo Gazzarata

12 – The Christmas lights – Luci D’Artista

When Torino started the tradition of illuminating the city center with lights designed by several artists from all over the world, many other cities got inspiration and do the same nowadays. However if you want to see the originals, you must go to Torino. The timeframe covered by the event it’s not actually just Christmas as is spans from early November (which the month dedicated to Contemporary art) till mid –January. In all that time the city is illuminated by installations that are not necessarily linked to the religious festivity but shows creativity and urban decoration in a very well mix. Some installations are movable thus they are displayed in a different area of the city every year, while some others have been thought out for a specific place and are always located in the same spot. The so-called Flying Carpet (see the photo here below) by the French artist Daniel Buren is always located in the City Hall Square, while the “Little blue spirits” by the German artist Rebecca Horn, is always visible at the Capuchins’ Hill on the most fascinating panoramic terrace in town.

All the above is my personal lists but I believe there are several more reasons to pay a visit to this elegant and underrated Italian City. If you’ve been there and have more reasons to share just write your comments here below and thanks for reading!!

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