It is said that people with an attitude to discover and learn are used to walk around the street with their “nose up”. It’s a poetic way to say that the cities we live in, can hide secret wonders on the cornice of a building, under the balconies, above the main entrance and so on, so that if we want to catch a special sight we often have to look above the level of our nose to find special attractions we would miss otherwise.
The period spanning from 1880 and 1914 was a special time for Europe: industry was flourishing, wealth started growing massively and a new social class arose: the Bourgeoisie, mostly composed by new entrepreneurs who started competing with the old aristocracy by building nice residences and Palazzi and by calling the services of artists who were experimenting new methods, tools and artistic features. The aim was to show off their wealth by deplying a massive display of beauty in all its forms.
It is the time when a new style was born: the Liberty Style.
The word may sound new to many because it’s the Italian name of a style that changes its name depending on the Country you visit. Among the most popular names for the same artistic flow you can find: Art Nuveau (in the French-speaking Countries), Modernismo in Spain, Jugendstil in Germany and Liberty in Italy. It’s the same concept, with different names.
The new style started in Brussels, with the works of the architect Victor Horta. From there, it invaded the whole continent bringing it’s main principles and adjusting itself to the local scenarios. In some cases the Liberty style impacts mostly on Interior Design and Urban Decorations, such as the entrance to the Metro in Paris or the famous “Tiffany” lamps.
In other areas the “liberty” movement mostly modified architecture and introduced new features that brought to life some serious architectural masterpiece that were new to everyone and, in a single word, beautiful.
Although Liberty is available pretty much everywhere in Europe, I made up my personal list of “Liberty Capitals” which include Brussels (Belgium), Barcelona (Spain), Riga (Latvia) and Torino (Italy).
In Italy, the style is named after Arthur Lasenby Liberty, the founder of a mall called Liberty & Co, where the Italians were used to buy wallpapers for their apartments.
There are several cities in Italy with good Liberty buildings, however Torino is the undisputed Liberty capital, counting an entire section of the city built according to the new features, as well a number of single buildings and villas meant to impress and amaze the vistors and those walking along the streets. In some cases these are individual residences, in other cases they are big condominiums meant to get money out of them by renting the apartments.
The main characteristics of the new style is the introduction of new constructive components such as wrought-iron, glass-bricks, floral decorations and painting on the facades, and the refusal of straight lines (which do not exist in nature).
In some cases, the doors of the building were turned into impressive monumental gates showing, fantastic beasts, telamons, weird animals, such as those at Palazzo Della Vittoria, along the longest boulevard of Torino, Corso Francia.
A local entrepreneur wanted to build a palace with a lighthouse in the center of the city, which is pretty weird considering Turin is 1 hour away from the sea.
Most of the most beautiful Liberty Palaces are located in the area called “Cit Turin” (the little Turin), where the wealthiest members of the local Bourgeoisie choose to live. However, there is another section of the city, called San Salvario, which also offer a wide range of Liberty buildings. The difference in between is that San Salvario was populated by smaller scale entrepreneurs, thus their spending capacity was lower. Nevertheless they managed to create impressive palaces, mostly divided into several apartments to rent, thus also recovering the money spent for building them.
Down to the lowest level of the new Bourgeoisie, everyone wanted to show at least a small sign of his entrepreneurial abilities, so that, not having big money to spend to build a huge palace, many simply choose decorative elements or painted facades.
To sum up, from my point of view, if you like the Liberty style (or Art Nuveau, if you prefer), the best places to go in Europe are Riga, Barcelona, Brussels and Torino. If you choose to visit Torino, I recommend you to stroll around in the district called “Cit Turin”, at first. The area is located behind the Train Station of Porta Susa. Then move on to San Salvario located between the Train Station of Porta Nuova and the Park of Valentino. If you have a large appetite you can finally cross the river Po and move on to the hillside to find the marvellous Villa Scott and many more. You can book a guided “Liberty Tour” here.
Where you familiar with the Italian Liberty Style? Did you know Torino is a good destination for that?