Clockwise from this picture: ice-cream cafe in piazza Carignano; chocolates at Ptetti; inside the neoclassical Platti; the Mole Antonelliana; afcatfes on via Roma
Treaty of Cambreis in 1559, Duke Emanuele Filiberto, the ‘iron-headed’, consolidated his family’s hold over the region that today straddles the border between France and Italy. The Savoys then set about embellishing what was still little more than a medieval market town.
In the century-and-a-half between the arrival of Orvietan architect Ascanio Vittozzi in 1584 and the departure of Sicilian rococo specialist Filippo Juvarra in 1732, Turin was transformed. Hardly a city at all to begin with, it soon became a place where you could (if you were a Savoy) swing Tarzan-like from chandelier to chandelier or (if you were a Savoy) walk the length of the arcaded via Po without getting wet. The other side of the road – where the arcades are interrupted by side streets -was reserved for the plebs. By the 1730s, life at the Savoy court had reached such a pitch of luxurious elegance that literary traveller Lady Mary Wortley Montagu had to send the English consul along to make her excuses for not presenting herself at one of the ducal soirees – because she had nothing sufficiently dazzling to wear.
As a late developer among Italian cities, Turin has a curiously unified, purpose-built feel, with its arcades, its showcase piazzas, its elegant palaces and townhouses, all arranged. Think of it as the Milton Keynes of the baroque.
The opulent Palazzo Reale was the family’s official residence until 1865, when as kings of the newly united Italy – they were forced to move south. The nearby royal church of San Lorenzo, designed by Guarino Guarini, is a tasteful clutter of marble, stucco, fresco, intarsia and canvas, topped by a confectioner’s dome. Across the square in Palazzo Madama, Filippo Juvarra’s monumental staircase, which dates from the 1720s, makes the swivelling stairs in Harry Potter seem positively mundane. Here, the special effects are in the design.
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