After we had had a short inspection of the Royal Gardens, we walked back through the palace and made a right hand turn at the front of the palace which led us to a pedestrian passage towards San Giovanni Square and the Turin Cathedral.
The photo below is a copy of an image that the local council used on one of its information posters in the area. The Royal Palace of Turin and the neighbouring Duomo are connected by an ornately domed building called the Chapel of the Holy Shroud. Before I had ever thought of visiting Turin, the city’s name was familiar to me as I knew that the so-called Shroud of Turin was held here. I always thought it was one of the more interesting Christian relics as its background story seemed to give it some chance of being actually a real Christian ‘relic’ that had survived into the modern world. This idea has not survived in recent years given that late 20th century carbon dating has shown it to be a cloth produced in the very early Middle Ages (12/13th centuries). However in the 1680s, the family of the House of Savoy built a chapel to hold the shroud and it is still there today.
We walked through the pedestrian passageway that takes the visitor to Piazza Giovanni along the side of Duomo di San Giovanni Battista. The photo to the left was taken at this point as both the dome of the Duomo and the dome of the Holy Shroud Chapel can be seen high above. Like Piazza Castello and its Palazzo Madama, this section of Turino has a history of human settlement that goes back well over 2000 years. The Duomo and one of the wings of the palace are built over the ancient Roman city and nearby can be found much of the uncovered Roman Arena. From the start of the Christian era up until the late 15th century, there was a complex of three churches built here over the years. They were demolished to allow for the building of a new cathedral dedicated to St John the Baptist which began in 1591.
Above right is the bell-tower of the Cathedral which was built in 1470, nearly 30 years before the Duomo was finished. Due to the nature of our tour, we didn’t go inside to inspect the Cathedral but continued along Via XX Septembre to the area on the side of the Duomo and in front of the last wing of the Royal Palace to be built. This palace wing was built in 1899 and as part of the excavations for the work, the remains of the Roman Arena built for the city of Augusta Taurinorum were found. This theatre was initially constructed out of wood in 13BCE and by the end of the first century CE, it was completely built out of stone. It could hold 3000 spectators. With the arrival of Christianity, a ban was imposed on ‘theatrical’ performances and the arena and its surrounds were abandoned and replaced by a cathedral at the end of the 4th century.
When the project to extend the Royal palace began and they discovered the ruins of the forgotten theatre, the project was changed to preserve the Roman remains. This first period of restoration finished in 1911 but between 1960-62, further excavations took place and further restoration of the Roman theatre and its surrounds were completed.
There seemed to be a lot of excavations along Via XX Septembre on the right hand side of the road and on the left there was a large green space that I presumed held further Roman remains; its name was Parco Archeologico but there was a large fence in the way so we walked to the end of the block and walked around into Via Porta Palatina.
There was some interesting views on Via Palatina. Looking left the view took in the Duomo, the Bell Tower and the spire and dome of the Chapel of the Holy Shroud. Ahead stood a Roman Age City Gate that was the original entry into the Julia Augusta Taurinorum from the north side of the town, Porta Palatina (Palantine Gate). It is held to be the best-preserved 1st century BCE Roman gateway that survived the Roman Empire. Archaeologists believe there may have been a Roman Palazzo built just inside these gates but it has long gone. Inside these gates today are two statues; one of Julius Caesar and one of Augustus Caesar. They are not the original statues but modern copies.
The Palatine Gate was the furtherest we went on this side of Piazza Castello and our guide led us back to the pedestrian tunnel beside the Royal Palace. From here we passed the other side of Palazzo Madama (note the war memorial on the other side…see photo left below) and made our way to the entrance to Via Giuseppe Verdi. There were arcades over the walkways at the start of this street and on the left hand side of the road there was an extended series of stalls selling second hand books. Unfortunately for an English reader, they were all in Italian! I was quite taken with a graffiti artist’s suggestion on a poster here amongst the stalls that the Turino citizens should make the rich pay for the impact of Covid-19. I would be fascinated to know if the ’rich’ were convinced that it was their problem to resolve.
Our next destination was the Mole Antonelliana, a building with a spire that rises above the skyline on this side of Turin. (Mole in Italian apparently means ‘monumental building’) It was built in 1889 and was originally a Jewish synagogue and is now the National Cinema Museum. Its main claim to fame is that it is the tallest museum in the world. It was clearly a very popular desstination as on the day we visited, there were a large number of people on the streets around the building, some of them obvious tourist groups like us. Given these streets were fairly narrow, I was relieved when we were led away from here, continuing on down Via Giuseppe Verdi.
Not much further down Via Giuseppe Verdi we came to an intersection with Via della Rosine which was a vibrant intersection as there were a lot of university venues here and a shortage in the area of student accommodation. The banner to the right here is roughly translated as “Spaces For Students Not For Individuals!” The accompanying hammer and sickle of communism might be a subtle suggestion that a housing revolution might not be far off if the capitalists failed to heed this demand.
Below left is a curious statue that may reflect the fears of the local students. This individual, apart from fragmenting into leggo blocks, is clearly at the end of some tether which shortly will involve him exploding in all directions.
We turned right here and crossed over to Via Po and after passing another block, we arrived at one of the biggest piazzas we had encountered on our walk around Turin, Piazza Vittorio Veneto. On one of the pillars of the footpath arcade we were walking along, I noted the above image on the right and its accompanying ‘exhortation.’ I asked our guide what the words meant in English. She seemed slightly embarrassed by my question but she answered with, “Close your eyes and look at me.”
The piazza ahead of us looked huge and seemed to be given over to drinking coffee in the sun or glasses of red wine as the symbol on the map (left below) indicates.
We were coming to the end of our guided tour at the bridge that crossed the River Po at the end of the Piazza Vittorio Veneto. Its name was Ponte Vittorio Emanuele I. Vittorio Emanuele was a Duke of Savoy from 1759-1824. Our guide suggested that we might like to cross the river and inspect the area on the other side of the Po or return to other parts of the city for a walk around before we were due back at our bus for our return trip to our accommodation in the snow capped alps. I decided I would go and have a look at the buildings on the other side of the river.
The above photo looks back at the buildings to the right of Piazza Vittorio Veneto from across the other side of the River Po.
The church that sits directly in front of the bridge across the Po is called the Chiesa della Gran Madre di Dio and was built between 1827 and 1831. This church was built by the administrators of the city of Turin to celebrate the end of Napoleon’s rule in Italy and the return of the Savoy family to their estates in and around Turin. The return of Vittorio Emanuele I to Savoy marked the return of his anti-liberal rule which was in strong contrast to the freedoms granted to Turin citizens by Napoleon’s laws. Victor Emmanuel abdicated in 1821 as he was unwilling to accept a liberal constitution for his realm. The statue that stands in front of the Gran Madre di Dio is that of Vittorio Emanuele I.
Up on the hill to the right in the above photo can be seen another church, Santa Maria al Monte dei Cappuccini. It was built between 1583 and 1656 for the use of Order of the Friars Minor Capuchin. This hill overlooks one of the main crossing points of the River Po and has been used for defensive purposes by the city since Roman times. There was even a small temple to Jupiter here in the first century CE. Since that time, this hill has been involved in military activity up until Napoleonic times in Turin.
We had walked a long way around the streets of Turin on this Friday in March 2023. It was a very enjoyable day but after I had finished my inspection of the area across the river Po, I now had to make the long walk back to the train station and catch my ride back to my accommodation in Pragelato in the Italian alps.