Turin is generally not among the obvious tourist or incentive travel destinations in Italy. This beautiful and enigmatic city attracts a particular type of discerning visitors, who take the time to delve into its rich and complex history and to investigate its secret charm. Aloof and yet boasting a lively cultural and artistic scene, highly efficient and yet celebrated for its magical legends, Turin is a city of contrasts whose layered beauty is both intriguing and puzzling. Strongly linked with Italian history, particularly with the history of Italian monarchy, prior to the birth of the Republic, Turin boasts a variety of museums, churches and historical landmarks, many of which can be visited for free.
1. The medieval village and Valentino Park
The Valentino is no ordinary park. Sure, you will be able to unwind, enjoy a relaxing afternoon in the open air on the Po river-bank, cycle or jog, but there’s more to it than that. The medieval village is not, as it happens, an actual medieval village, but a XIX reconstruction. It contains a castle, for which you will need to purchase tickets, but the village itself, with its narrow alleys and characteristic shops, can be visited for free. This architectural complex has long been a favourite spot for tourists and locals alike. It was built in the early 1880s as a feature for the General Italian Exposition and modelled on several churches and castles in the region. The village main street was equipped with small workshops, reproducing traditional medieval crafts. Potters, blacksmiths and carpenters, to this day, produce and sell artefacts in the fashion of the Late Middle Ages. The village was meant to be destroyed after the Exposition, but it was later decided to keep it as an open-air city museum. The latest add-on to this village dates back to 1996: a beautiful traditional garden, complimenting the style of the nearby buildings.
2. Doorway of the Devil: witchcraft in Turin
Some say that Turin is a magical city, because of its architectural beauty and fascinating artistic tradition. Others attach a more literal meaning to the adjective. Enthusiasts of all things esoteric believe that Turin is strategically located at the centre of two magic triangles. The black magic triangle, which also encompasses London and San Francisco, and the white magic triangle, whose other points are Lyon and Prague, converge in the Piedmontese capital city. As a result, Turin is at the centre of a number of legends that will draw the keen occultist and fascinate the general public. The doorway of Palazzo Trucchi di Levaldigi is at the centre of many such legends. Count Giovanni Battista Trucchi di Levaldigi commissioned in 1675 from a Parisian workshop. The most remarkable feature in its rich and impressive decoration is the central knocker, fashioned to resemble the devil, peering at the approaching visitor. The knocker’s handle is in the shape of two serpents entwined. According to one of the legends surrounding it, the doorway appeared overnight, because of an overzealous apprentice warlock who had summoned Satan. The Dark Lord, annoyed by the man’s insistence, decided to imprison him for life behind a door that could never be opened.
3. Turin Cathedral and the Chapel of the Holy Shroud
Turin Cathedral is dedicated to the city’s saint patron St. John the Baptist and it was built in the late XV Century by order of Cardinal Della Rovere. It is a typical renaissance church, with a white marble facade, three elaborately carved doorways and the characteristic red bricks steeple. The inside features several gothic elements. In the XVII a magnificent baroque chapel was added, in which the Holy Shroud was to be kept (and is kept to this day, in a watertight glass cage). The christian relic had been brought to Turin by the Savoy family and it has drawn pilgrims from all over the world ever since. The Cathedral was designed by Amedeo de Francisco di Settignano, also known as Meo del Caprino, with the sole exceptions of the dome and the Chapel of the Shroud, which were designed by architect Guarino Guarini. The Cathedral is the only renaissance church in Turin and its gothic and baroque contaminations make for a unique style. Both the facade and the inside were restored after a fire damaged them in 1997.
4. Church of Santa Maria del Monte (Monte dei Cappuccini)
Monte dei Cappuccini is halfway between a large hill and a small mountain, not far from the city centre, where the Church of Santa Maria del Monte is located. Its origin, like those of so many historical buildings in Turin, are linked to the Savoy Family. Duke Carlo Emanuele I donated the land to the order of the Capuchin Monks in the late 1500s and a convent dedicated to St Maurice was the first building to be completed on this site in 1590. The church came over a century later, which is evident in its typically baroque features. No religious site in Turin would be complete without its share of legends and most of those concerning the Capuchin convent focus on the heroic feats performed by the monks while the city was in the grip of the black plague and on an alleged miracle. As the french troops put the city of Turin under siege in 1640, as the legend has it, they were prevented from ransacking the church by flames suddenly erupting from the tabernacle. The soldiers, awed by this inexplicable prodigy, retreated and left the church and convent in peace.
5. Palazzo Carignano
Together with the Royal Palace and Palazzo Madama, Palazzo Carignano is one of the residences historically owned by the Savoy family and currently listed as Unesco heritage sites. This magnificent building stands in the square by the same name and, like the dome and chapel in the Cathedral, was designed by Guarino Guarini in the late XVII century. It is one of the most beautiful examples of baroque architecture in Italy and it is said to have been modelled on Bernini’s project for the Louvre. The palace currently houses the Museum of Risorgimento and its richly decorated halls contain paintings, artworks and memorabilia of one of the most significant movements in european history. The museum can be visited for free every Sunday, from 10.00 am to 6.00 pm. Free guided tours are also available upon reservation.