13 curiosities about Turin
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In Turin it happens to come across ancient buildings with strange black spheres on the facades. These are not air inlets or attachments for some cables, but small “monuments” in memory of the history experienced by the city of Turin and its inhabitants. The cannonballs stuck on the facades of various civil and religious buildings that pass on the memory of the bombings suffered by Turin during the sieges of 1706 and 1799, both victorious against the French troops (1706) and Napoleonic (1799). These cannonballs symbolize the resistance of the city.»
Via Po is also characterized by its magnificent arcades – uninterrupted on the left with the perpendicular streets, unlike the right side. It was King Vittorio Emanuele I of Savoy who ordered the architects to erect the arcades in this way, to protect the royals from getting wet in the rain or snow on their way from the Royal Palace to the Gran Madre church.
Vittorio Emanuele I bridge is the most important bridge in the city that connects Piazza Vittorio Veneto with the Piazzetta Gran Madre di Dio, on the right bank of the Po, and whose history intersects with nothingless than that of Napoleon Bonaparte. During the French rule of the nineteenth century, Napoleon ordered the construction of this bridge to cross the Po river and strategically unite various areas of Turin. The new bridge had to be useful, but at the sametime, very impressive since it also had the purpose of glorifying the French general as King of Italy. In fact, this would become the first stone bridge in the Savoy city, replacing the then provisional wooden bridge. The first stone was laid with a grand ceremony on 22 November 1810. However, things went differently from how Napoleon Bonaparte had imagined. The bridge was never completed under the dominion of the French general, who was sent into exile on the island of Sant’Elena. In his place, Vittorio Emanuele I returned to the city – and despite the people of Turin clamouring to eliminate the bridge as a symbol of French rule, he decided to finish the construction as it was considered of fundamental importance for the city. In honor of the sovereign, the bridge, once completed, was named Ponte Vittorio Emanuele I. As a gesture of revenge against the French, it is said that Vittorio Emanuele felt as if he were trampling on France and one of its works every time he passed over the bridge.
As often happens with these historical works of the city, there’s a story that enriches its charm and increasesits mystery. According to legend, walled inside the central pillar of the bridge are 79 gold, silver, and bronze coins, minted to celebrate the exploits and achievements of then-Emperor Napoleon, as well as a solid silver meter, 10 more coins of more recent minting, and two metal plates with commemorative inscriptions of Vernazza in Latin and by Déperret in French, the two emeritus members of the Academy of Sciences, who explained the reasons for the construction of the bridge. The 89 coins were then closed inside a woodencasket while the meter and tablets were closed in a glass tube. Both were placed in a lead container, resistant to the weight of the construction, then set in the central pillar of the Vittorio Emanuele I bridge.
Legend has it that, in the woods around the city, lived a frightening dragon that spread terror among the population by spitting fire and flames, eating farm animals and killing many people. The locals, looking for a solution to defeat the dragon and return to live in peace, thought of sending another animal that could fightagainst this frightening being. The choice fell on a red-haired bull, the strongest and most robust animalthey had available. To make it even stronger and to increase the chances of victory, the inhabitants of the city gave the animal a mixture of water and red wine to drink. And in fact this drink made the bull even more combative and impatient. After he drank this elixir, the redbull was taken to the woods and the fight with the dragon began. The brave animal, fighting with all itsstrength, managed to wound the dangerous creature with its horns and eventually killed it. During the hard fight, however, the red-haired bull was seriously injured and died shortly after. The population of the villagewas so grateful to the red bull and its sacrifice that they decided to add it to the Olympus of their deitiesand put it on the city’s coat of arms. From this savior is derived the name of Turin and the bond that the city still has with this animal today – a symbol of strength, tenacity, courage, and freedom, also consideredvirtues of the Turin people.
Not everyone knows that for a short period of his life, precisely from 21 September 1888 to 9 January 1889, the great German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche lived in Turin. A short period of time, but that wasenough for Nietzsche to fall in love with the city and its people. In letters addressed to relatives and friends, he wrote: «There is nothing to complain about Turin: it is a magnificent and singularly beneficial city»; and again, «Turin is not a place that abandons itself». His home was located in Via Carlo Alberto 6, on the fourth floor. Here, Nietzsche used to play the piano for several hours a day,. The end of Nietzsche’s stay in Turin was decidedly tragic. The story of Nietzsche and the horse, which according to some marks the moment of his mental collapse, tells how on 3 January 1889, the philosopher saw a coachman violently whipping and kicking his horse. Shocked by this unmotivatedferocity, Nietzsche ran to stop the man and once he got close to him, with tears in his eyes, he began to hugand kiss the horse.
It is not known if this anecdote is true, but what is known for certain historically is that that day, Nietzsche fainted in Piazza Carlo Alberto. Since then, he began to write to his friends, relatives, and famous people of the time the so-called «tickets of madness», letters in which he signed himself as «Dionysus» or «the Crucifix». On 9 January 1890, his friend Overbeckper, a Protestant theologian and his former teacher, arrived in Turin to take Nietzsche away and have him treated in a psychiatric clinic in Basel. Nietzsche would never return to Turin again. In Via Carlo Alberto 6 today there is an effigy that reads: “In this house, Federico Nietzsche knew the fullnessof the spirit that tempts the unknown, the will to dominate that arouses the hero. Here, to attest to his high destiny and genius, he wrote Ecce Homo, the book of his life. In memory of the creative hours, springautumn 1888, in the first centenary of the birth the city of Turin posed.»
Among the most curious places in town, there is one to which the Turinese are particularly attached: Christopher Columbus’ finger. Located in the central Piazza Castello under the arcades of the Prefecture, a bronze medallion in high relief depict the most famous navigator and explorer of all times, with his little finger protruding from his hand. In the background, a globe and a caravel memorialises his most famous feat: the discovery of America. Legend has it that rubbing the little finger of Christopher Columbus’ hand brings a lot of luck. This gesture has now become a real tradition of the city of Turin, and for this reason the finger of the statue appears much more polished than the rest of the work. It is above all the university students, wishing to excel in their exams, who rely on the statue of Columbus. Over time, the little finger has thinned so much that it has had to be replaced.
In Corpus Domini square at the height of the fourth floor, you will notice a ‘piercing’ that gave the building its nickname: «Palace with the Piercing». The installation, well known to the inhabitants of Turin, is a work of modern art titled ‘Stolen Kisses’. Born asa temporary installation in the 90s, it’s now a permanently fixture and can be seen from the centre of Turin. On the sides of the piercing, one may notice drops of blood gush out, red on one side and blue on the other. Many believe this is to indicate the difference between the poor and the rich: the blue blood isindeed facing Piazza Castello while the red faces Porta Palazzo.
In Piazza Savoia at the heart of the Quadrilatero Romano, there is an imposing Obelisk built to celebrate the approval of the Siccardi Laws, which in 1850 marked a turning point for the relationship between State and Church. Located in Piazza Savoia, the 21-meter high granite obelisk still stands intact despite the attackssuffered in the Second World War. The Siccardi Laws were intended to abolish the privileges of the Catholic clergy, and on the surface of the obelisk, reads a significant proclamation: The Law is the same for everyone. Notwithstanding, as often happens in the magical city of Turin, there’s always something hidden behind – or in this case, underneath. It is said that during construction, the city hall of Turin decided to have a box buried under the monument: a time capsule, or a container where objects and information destined to be found in a future age are stored. The ancient memory chest wanted by the Turin city hall would contain the numbers 141 and 142 of the Gazzetta del Popolo printed in 1850 with the articles relating to the construction of the obelisk itself; some precious coins; a copy of the Siccardi law, a kilo of rice, a bottle of Barbera wine and some Turin breadsticks. A symbolic gesture to convey importance and dignity to one of the most important historical changes of the 19th century.
Turin is a city of multiple façades, and hidden from the eyes of most, is the city where magic prevails. According to legend, Turin is a city where the forces of good and evil are concentrated. The city is indeedone of the tips of both the «magic triangles»: the Black Magic triangle formed by Turin, London, and San Francisco; and the White Magic triangle formed by Turin, Lyon, and Prague.
Piazza Statuto is considered the darkest point of Turin, the black heart. This is the precise point where Turinjoins with San Francisco and London to form the black magic triangle. To indicate this, an obelisk sits on the top of an astrolabe to mark the passage of the 45th Parallel. In addition, the ancient Romans had placed the necropolis and the vallis occisorum in this area of the city, and it was also where the gallows, a sad place of executions and burials, were housed. In the centre of Piazza Statuto, the Frejus Fountain, designed to commemorate the victims of the homonymous tunnel, shows the statues in the act of climbing to reach the top, where an angel is waiting for them with a five-pointed star on his head. Legend has it that this angel is Lucifer, the most beautiful angel – yet at the foot of the monument, is access to the gate of Hell. On the other hand, in Piazza Solferino, we find the Angelica Fountain – the statues of the two male characters, Boaz and Jaquin, the supporters of the columns of Hercules, representing the guardians of the threshold that enters infinity. Looking carefully at the two male figures, you notice a rectangular opening in between them, the threshold – impassable for the layman – beyond which you access an unknowndimension, knowledge without limits, «the door to infinity».
The Devil’s door of the Palazzo Trucchi di Levaldigi (Via XX Settembre), is rich in floral decorative motifs – but in the centre, the face of the devil and two snakes appear. There are many theories and legends aboutthis place. In fact, the door was installed in one night, thus fuelling legends that it was the work of the devil. It is said to be occupied by ghosts, such as that of a dancer killed in 1790, or that of a soldier, who walkedthrough the doors and disappeared into thin air. Black magic in Turin also hides among the buildings – in Via Lascaris, in front of a current bank, two eye-shaped slits can be observed on the sidewalk that were used to shed light on the rooms in the basement: the Devil’s eyes! But there is also an underground city, made up of kilometres of tunnels and galleries, and the Alchemicalcaves, with three access points. According to the legend, they are places of maximum concentration of energy where sub-conscious thoughts and fears, can be materialised. It is believed that Prince Umberto, in the first cave, had the precognition of his assassination that took place a few days later in Monza.
The arcades of Turin features 18 kilometres of arches, which have always been a symbol of the Piedmontese capital. 12.5 of these kilometres are made up of continuous inter-connected arcades. Made with different styles and materials, from the grey stone of Via Po to the marble of Via Roma, with theirmajesty and their play of light and shadow, these arcades are the perfect setting for a city living room likeTurin. In recent years, the porticoes of Turin have acquired increasing importance, not only locally but alsointernationally, representing a major tourist and cultural attraction. For this reason, the Portici and Gallerie di Torino association was born in 2018, with the aim of making the most of this incredible heritage.
Turin is not the only European city that boasts an amazing arrangement of arcades, but at 18 kilometres, itdoes hold the accolade of being the city with the largest pedestrian area on the continent. Turin’s arcades first date back to the medieval period, but the construction of the monumental arcades thatremain synonymous with the city today only began in the 1600s. On 16 June 1606, Carlo Emanuele I of Savoy commissioned Ascanio Vittozzi to construct the arcades in conjunction with the development of the majestic Piazza Castello. However, it wasn’t untl the beginning of the 17th century that Filippo Juvarra builtthe porticoes of Porta Palazzo, and over a century later when Benedetto Alfieri was giventhe task of redeveloping the arcades of Piazza Palazzo di Città. The arcades in Piazza Vittorio Veneto, Piazza Carlo Felice and Piazza Statuto were built in the 19th century – completing a mammoth undertaking of more than 300 years.
Casa Scaccabarozzi, better known by the Turinese as Fetta di Polenta (name given by the curious shape of the building, resembling a real slice of polenta with its characteristic yellow color) is a building located in the district of Vanchiglia designed in 1840 by Alessandro Antonelli, the well-known designer of the Mole Antonelliana. This building, designed by Antonelli on his own land, was undertaken more as a gamble than as a realconstruction requirement. The building consists of 9 floors, 2 of which are underground, connected by a small stone scissor staircase. On the 54 cm side, to maximize space, Antonelli decided to place the flue. One of the narrowest houses in the world.
Scattered throughout Turin, there are 813 special fountains called Torèt – the typical bottle-green-colored fountains with a bull’s head as water outlets. Each torèt also has a ‘bowl’ in the water drain on the ground, allowing birds and dogs to easily enjoy the fountain too. In recent years, a project called I Love Torèt was born, with the goal of mapping the torèts in the city and preserving this symbol of Turin that the city’s inhabitants hold dear. The initiative also offers the possibility of adopting one or more torèts for free. An iPhone application called iTorèt was developed to help people find these drinking fountains.
Pizza margherita is one of the most famous foods in the world – and legend has it that it was invented in Turin in June 1889, to honor the first Queen of Italy, Margherita di Savoia. Chef Raffaele Esposito selected the toppings, tomato, mozzarella and basil, to represent the same colors asthose on the Italian flag.