Turin. The City Of Magic, Mystery And Arches

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“Turin is a very fine city. […] The streets are extravagantly wide, the paved squares are prodigious, the houses are huge and handsome, and compacted into uniform blocks that stretch away as straight as an arrow, into the distance. The sidewalks are about as wide as ordinary European streets, and are covered over with a double arcade supported on great stone piers or columns. One walks from one end to the other of these spacious streets, under shelter all the time, and all his course is lined with the prettiest of shops and the most inviting dining-houses.” (Mark Twain, A Tramp Abroad)
The twin churches of San Carlo and Santa Cristina in Piazza San Carlo, a beautiful baroque square known as the “drawing room of Turin”
I’ve known about Turin from two sources; a book called “The Shroud of Turin” my mother used to keep on a shelf in our living room when I was little and from a webpage that claimed that Turin stands at the vortex of two mystical triangles: the triangle of white magic together with Lyon and Prague and the triangle of black magic together with London and San Francisco. The mystery that all of a sudden shrouded the former capital of Italy made me eager to want to walk its streets and feel for myself the magic hidden under its old arches.
Europe’s most magical city, Turin, appears to be the hot spot in an age old battle of “Good” vs. “Evil”.  Often overlooked by the tourists, the city is full of Baroque cafes and architecture and arcaded shopping promenades and museums. Some say it is the presence of the Shroud that attracts the forces of good and evil. And I guess we do need to believe in magic for miracles to happen. Turin is the kind of city where Dan Brown might very well place the action of a future novel.
Palazzo Carignano in Turin, the birthplace of Vittorio Emanuele II in 1820

Turin’s History

Augusta Taurinorum was founded about 2.000 years ago by the Romans at the intersection of  the rivers Po and Dora, as a camp for the troops the Emperor Augustus sent to protect the Roman state’s northern borders. Augusta Taurinorum was built according to the laws of magic, with four gates facing the four cardinal directions. The square city plan with streets ending in right angles that was a Roman trademark still thrives in modern Turin.
The Savoy family dynasty conquered the city in the year 1280 and the history of Torino for the next 600 years is wedded to that of the House of Savoy. During this period the Sacred Shroud of Turin, a cloth which is said to bear the likeness of Christ, was brought to the city.

The former Italy used to be a kaleidoscope of fractions kingdoms but in the year 1863, Vittorio Emanuele II from the House of Savoy united them all under his own rule. Turin became the first capital of the united Italy and the Italian nation was born here.  In 1865, the capital moved to Florence. Rome became Italy’s permanent capital in 1870.

Magical Turin

When you look at Turin through the eyes of magic, you discover a secret city. This Turin is literally hidden under the houses, in the tunnels, galleries and caves which run underground, deep beneath what meets the eye, where in the Roman and medieval period  mysterious rituals were unwound.

Palazzo Reale, Turin
Piazza Castello is not only the heart of the city, but also the center of Turin’s positive energy. Some believe that the gate of the Palazzo Reale, framed by the equestrian statues of the benign underworld deities  Castor and Pollux, is actually the threshold which divides the city of saints from the city of devils. Palazzo Madama is told to be constructed over the underground Caves of Alchemy where the “scientists” of the Savoy House supposedly worked to find the Philosopher’s Stone, able to turn the metal into gold; according to some these caves still exist today and Palazzo Madama preserves entries and hidden passages that would allow the access to the caves.

Palazzo Madama, Turin

Piazza Statuto is considered to be the “black heart” of the city. During Roman times there was a necropolis. If you look closely in the garden of the piazza you might discern a manhole cover. This manhole leads to a mysterious underground world: most will say it leads to the center of the sewer system, but some contend that it leads to the Gate of Hell.

Nostradamus stayed in Turin for almost a year in 1556, but no one knows why. A few hundred meters away from Piazza Statuto, in Via Michele Lessona, the ruins of Villa Domus Morozzo, the residence in Turin of the most famous fortuneteller of all times could be seen until a few years ago. On an external wall of the villa there was an engraved stone written in French. Legend has it that the words used in the inscription would form the key for deciphering the famous prophecies of Nostradamus. The stone was dated 1556: “Nostradamus stayed here, where there is Paradise, Hell, Purgatory. I call myself Victory. Who honors me will have glory, who disdains me will know complete ruin.” The stone was saved and it is now part of a private collection.

The Shroud of Turin dates back to 30 A.D. by tradition; 1260 to 1390 by carbon dating. The Shroud is a linen cloth bearing the image of a man who appears to have suffered physical trauma in a manner consistent with crucifixion. For at least six centuries the Shroud has been reputed to be the one in which the corpse of Jesus Christ was wrapped and entombed after the Crucifixion. It is kept in the royal chapel of the Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist in Turin, and it is exposed to the public every few years by Papal decision. But some claim that the Turin Shroud is actually an image of James of Molay (c. 1240/1250 – 1314), the 23rd and last Grand Master of the Knights Templar. Although there seems to be a connection between the provenance of the Shroud of Turin and the Templars, the truth remains a mystery.

Turin is one of the cities that claim to have the Holy Grail. Some legends say that the Holy Grail is buried beneath the Church della Gran Madre di Dio, a church copying the architecture of the Pantheon in Rome. The statues on each side of the church represent two prosperous women: one has on her forehead a triangle (a Masonic symbol) and to the feet a papal tiara; the other, represented by the Faith, it supports with the left hand a wine glass around which, the legend to the Grail was born. According to the tradition, the eyes of this last statue, would point out towards the place where the Holy Grail is guarded. However, nowadays one can see the Holy Grail in Valencia, Spain. Whether it is the original or not, it entirely depends on what one wants to believe.

Church della Gran Madre di Dio
Turin’s own magus, Gustavo Rol (1903–94), was famous for mind-reading, painting watercolours without touching the paper, passing through solid walls, and reading books without taking them off the shelf. He called his gifts ‘extraordinary possibilities’, which he had since the age of 23, when he discovered ‘a tremendous law that links the chromatic vibrations of the colour green with the sound of the fifth note on the musical scale and certain thermal vibrations: the secret of sublime consciousness. He never did anything for money, but never let himself be studied either, describing himself merely as ‘the gutter that channels water falling from the roof.’

The lovely Piazzetta Corpus Domini houses the Church del Corpus Domini. This church was built in the 1600’s on the exact point of the “Miracle of Turin”. In the year 1453 a thief was attempting to sell stolen sacred objects from the Church di Exilles in Val di Susa. Suddenly a shining host rose up from the thief’s bag and hovered suspended in the air. Only the prayers of the faithful and the words of bishop Ludovico di Romagnano brought the host to earth again.

Piazza Solferino, one of the main piazzas of the city, hosts la Fontana Angelica, an allegorical representation which portrays, according to the mystics, the Gateway to Infinity.

What to visit in Turin

Turin is full of mysteries. Its beautiful red, yellow and white buildings, so different from the grey ones from Milano, the arcades Mark Twain so much loved and the pedestrian plazzas and wide boulevards make for a charming city. Turin is a major industrial center, where the headquarters of the car company FIAT are located (the T in FIAT stands for Turin). Turin is also home to one of Italy’s oldest universities, the University of Turin, which still ranks among the best universities in Italy nowadays.

University of Turin

Turin is the birthplace of the Italian cinema. The Mole Antonelliana, the landmark of Turin, houses the National Museum of Cinema, and it is believed to be the tallest museum in the world (167 meters). Initially intended as a Jewish Synagogue, it was named after the architect who built it, Alessandro Antonelli. Construction began in 1863 and was completed 26 years later, after the architect’s death.
In the heart of Turin, connecting Piazza Castello and Piazza Carlo Alberto, Galleria Subalpina is a very beautiful shopping arcade designed in glass, marble and iron. It is one of the most elegant places in Turin, housing flowerbeds and several shops and cafes. The German philosopher Nietzsche lived there. But for Turin people Galleria Subalpina is more than an astonishing place. Turin people believe that strolling in the arcade brings good luck!

Galleria Subalpina, Turin
Turin has many museums. But probably the most famous one is the Egyptian Museum. Claimed to be the biggest Egyptian Museum outside Egypt, with more then 30.000 artifacts on display, the truth is that most objects are small and the museum doesn’t seem that big all in all. One might want to compare the Turin’s museum collection with the one in Louvre or British Museum, but I personally think this is highly subjective.
Artifacts from the Egyptiam Museum, Turin
The best place for a picnic in Turin is Valentino Park, one of the largest urban parks in Europe. The Park extends along the left bank of the river Po at the foot of the hills, between the King Umberto I and Princess Isabella bridge. Also a great spot for people watching, it houses the Valentino Palace and a magnificent replica of a Medieval Castle and Village. The park ends with the breathtaking Fountain of the 12 Months, a parable of the 12 months, 4 seasons and the four rivers that flow through Turin… the Po, the Dora Riparia, the Stura and the Sangone. Worth a visit!
Unfortunately we allocated one day only to Turin, without being aware of the riches and jewels that were expecting us. In the evening we turned back to our hotel in Milan, with the feeling that we will be back some day to Turin. Who would have thought? We should have planned 2 days for Turin and only one for Milan instead of the opposite.  

4 Responses

  1. Ira Jones
    | Reply

    A city rich of history, beautiful palaces, museums…

  2. Laura
    | Reply

    @Reikalein, of course I don't mind, it actually sounds great. Let me know when you have your article published so I can stop by and have a look.

    Living in Turin for a whole year sounds marvelous. I bet you had lots of fun…

  3. Reikalein
    | Reply

    I love Turin, I spent my Erasmus year there and feel in love with the place.
    I'm thinking of writing a restaurant recommendation post sooner or later, mind if I feature your post?

  4. housemom77
    | Reply

    hi very nice blog you have here…I like the photos it's like I'm already there.keep blogging!

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