I admit, I knew almost nothing about Turin. Apart from the Shroud, Fiat and the Winter Olympics many years ago, I had never heard or read about other things…
It is a destination on which I decided more due to the lack of options, being blocked in Venice on New Year’s Eve. The COVID and the requested green certificates kept many railway employees at home, not working, so you should have seen me going to the train station in Venice every morning and evening to see if any fast train would leave the next day.
The saving solution was a private train, which took me, via Milan, to Turin.
I was relaxed, wanting only to walk, not to visit. But… the plan on the train did not match the one in the town: in the two and a half days I stayed, I did not have the heart not to visit!
It happened to me before to get out of the blue to certain places on the planet without knowing anything about them. Okay, now there is the Google – the savior, but before the internet, when I didn’t have a guide, do you know what I used to do? I would go to the first tobacco shop or the first souvenir shop and look at the postcards. The most handy guide ever, believe me!
I would see what pictures the locals put on the postcards, I would turn them over and read the names of those sights and then, naively, I would ask the seller: “sorry, where is this in town?”. And that’s how I started exploring the place J.
Now, before I got to the postcards or did a google search, the hop on hop off tourist bus got on my way.
Of course I hopped on, because I just wasn’t going to miss a tour that would help me get a first idea about an absolutely new city for me!
After freezing for an hour on the open floor of the bus, trying to catch everything I heard in my headphones, I got off and started walking.
THE TURIN CATHEDRAL
I never imagined that I could be so touched by the atmosphere in a church, be it a Cathedral or not! I’ve been inside so many. Some overwhelmed me with their grandeur, others with their history, others with their simplicity, but here, as I went in, I entered the still present Christmas atmosphere, with the Nativity scene (I was there in January).
An absolutely impressive Nativity scene, built of polystyrene, stone, wood, iron and clay, with no less than 120 characters in various scenes in the everyday life, characters made of terracotta, then painted and dressed. An ensemble mastered in the smallest details, a perfect picture, accompanied by extremely emotional music. Believe me, I didn’t feel like leaving!
I sat and looked fascinated at every statuette, at every detail of houses, animals, objects. I learned music by heart, a music that followed me for days on end.
THE SHROUD OF TURIN
The seller of religious souvenirs in the Cathedral asks me if I want her to show me where the Shroud is.The famous cloth used to cover Christ after he was taken down from the cross??? Man, I didn’t even know it was right here. I am so hopeless…
She takes me to a quiet, secluded corner, where a few people are praying, and she whispers to me that I have no hope of seeing the shroud. I will not see it…
Behind a glass there is a box 5 meters long and 1.60 meters wide, covered with a material on which is a crown of thorns. Inside that box is the shroud. Above it is a painting depicting what would be the image of Jesus impregnated on the shroud.
I look at a nearby leaflet: the shroud was taken out from Jerusalem and taken to Cyprus, then to France, where it came into the possession of the Savoy family in 1453. In 1578 it was transferred to Turin. In 1694 it was placed in the spectacular Chapel behind the altar of the Cathedral. (The chapel was badly damaged by a fire in 1997, but the shroud was not affected, being rescued by a firefighter! And it was moved to where it is now.)
Donated by will to the Vatican (when King Umberto II of Savoy died), on the sole condition that it should never be taken out of Turin, the Shroud is exposed only when the Pope wants… About every 10 years or so, or maybe every 5 years, if something is commemorated or there is an important event. (Last exhibited in 2015).
An interesting film about the shroud and the traces on it is presented in the Cathedral. I sat down and watched it, to understand how Jesus was wrapped in that cloth, where and what traces are on it, how the cloth was affected by several unfortunate events…
Of course, I later read the theories from the opposite side, theories that disprove that the shroud is the real one. Especially since in 1988 the cloth was subjected to radiocarbon dating and the result placed it somewhere between 1260-1390. The Catholic Church has accepted the result, but still argues that its authenticity cannot influence its quality as an object of worship.
With all the theories, I liked it so much here, in the Cathedral, that I came back every day!
Tip: Avoid Sunday mornings. The moment I saw this queue, I said I would never enter the Cathedral. But in the evening you can go in without any problems. And during the other days of the week. (Now I don’t know how it is during the touristic season…)
THE ROYAL PALACE
The former residence of the Savoy family, the Royal Palace is worth a visit, in my opinion. The Palace with the family apartments, but also the gardens and the Royal Armory.
I wish I could see something in the Royal Palace Library: Leonardo Da Vinci‘s red chalk drawing:
Dating back to 1512, it is generally accepted as a self-portrait of Da Vinci, from the age of 60.
For conservation reasons, the drawing is only exposed for one week every year. No, I didn’t get to be there during that very week…
One thing I really liked about the Palace is that it has a direct connection with the Cathedral!
The spectacular altar – the place where the shroud used to be kept – can only be visited if you get a ticket for the Royal Palace. (You enter the Cathedral without paying a ticket, but a well-protected gate stops the access to the Palace.)
You can spend hours in the Royal Palace, not to mention the gardens. I caught them in the winter and I liked them, so I imagine how cool they are in spring or during summer.
In the evening, the Royal Palace attracts passers-by – tourists or locals – through the video mapping show.
It doesn’t take long and it goes on over and over again, so if you missed the start, you can watch the next full turn.
MOLE ANTONELLIANA – THE NATIONAL MUSEUM OF CINEMA
I saw the building immediately and, even if I hadn’t seen it, I would have looked for it, because there are so many souvenirs, from magnets, to bottles with drinks, sweets, trinkets etc. that have the shape of this unique building that houses the National Museum of Cinematography.
Did you know that it was once the tallest building in the world?!? I had no idea! In the 19th century, for a while, it was indeed the tallest building in the world, with its 167 meters.
It was originally conceived by the architect Alessandro Antonelli (hence the name…) as a synagogue, in 1862. A few years later it was completed by the town hall and it became the exhibition center and headquarters of the Museum of Cinematography. A Swiss scenographer has shown his talent in arranging the museum, which has become one of the most important of its kind in the world!
If you book in advance, you can go up to the dome with a panoramic elevator, to take a look from the heights, over the whole city. As I had come in Turin without knowing anything, I missed the climb, but not the visit to the museum.
The museum is very interesting, built vertically, on 6 floors, and if you are passionate about photography, for example, this is the place for you! I saw some old cameras super cool!
As a visitor, you also learn how to make sequences and effects in a movie, step by step, you see costumes used in movies, equipment, sets, décor objects; there are experiments that exemplify certain effects, famous characters with whom you can take a picture, so you can bring your child too.
Speaking of children: I photographed the editing table above, why do you think? Because… don’t laugh… I saw it being used! When I was little and acting in movies, I used to go into the editing booths and saw how the film specialists used to literally cut the film, how they synchronized the image with the sound. You realize that in front of this table I felt like a dinosaur hihi.
The Great Hall of the Temple, in the center of the building, offers you a place where you can rest on some comfortable lounge chairs, watching on some big screens various videos.
And from here you can watch the spectacular cable climb of the elevator that takes you to the dome.
WHAT TO SEE IN TURIN
SAN CARLO SQUARE
Considered the most beautiful in the city, Piazza San Carlo was built in the 17th century by the royal architect, following the model of the Parisian royal squares. It is a kind of salon of the city, a place of historical events, but also of rallies, concerts, sports events.
It has two twin churches and, under the arcades of the square, there are some of the most famous historic cafes in the city. Caffè San Carlo, Caffè Torino, inaugurated in 1903 (where I was and about which I’ll write below) and Confetteria Stratta, with furniture from 1836!
CASTELLO SQUARE AND ITS SURROUNDINGS
The very center of the town, I would say, because I like to identify in each city the center of the center.
Around Castello Square you have enough tourist objectives to spend an entire holiday in Turin! And from here start the famous shopping streets.
In addition to the Royal Palace and the Cathedral, you have Palazzo Madama, a former castle that houses the Museum of Ancient Art. And it is just steps away from the Royal Palace and gardens.
Right in front of it Via Garibaldi starts– a famous shopping street. Of course I went on it from one end to the other J.
A little further on, a building impressed me the most! I found out that it is Palazzo Carignano, the former private residence of the Princes of Carignano, now the headquarters of the Risorgimento Museum.
When it was built, in the 17th century, it shocked public opinion by using exposed bricks.
Housed in a 17th century palace, this museum is the second most important Egyptian museum in the world, after Cairo! (London is also in the first three, with its very important collections from the British Museum.)
I realized that this museum is very important from the large number of Egyptian souvenirs seen all over the city, from magnets to statuettes, mugs, pens and various accessories.
I put it on the list for next time.
In two and a half days I had no way and no intention to visit all the museums in Turin, especially since I had planned to walk, to see, to feel the city.
I admit that I was extremely excited about many places. Turin is an elegant city, with palaces, large, spectacular squares, unique buildings, arcades that run for miles, historic cafes, galleries and a Central Market – Mercato Centrale – full of bargains and food offerings (including horse and donkey meat…).
The Palatine Gate – one of the best preserved Roman gates – is, as far as I can see, a meeting place for food delivery guys. Either there is a restaurant in the area where the whole city orders, or these guys are making a revolution…
Turin, or at least the center I saw, is full of such beautiful galleries, with restaurants, shops and even cinemas! It emanates so much elegance that I felt the need to go and buy an evening dress and high-heels. Luckily I got busy…
Even the drinking fountains look unique here, in Turin. They have become such a strong brand of the city that you can buy a fridge magnet or even a trinket with the green bull. (Drinking water is good and helps you save on bottled water…)
THE CITY OF CAFES
“How cool, you go to the city of cafes!” – a friend told me excitedly when I took my train ticket.
I wasn’t as excited about it, since I don’t drink coffee at all. However, when I got here and entered the first historic cafe, I realized that you don’t have to be a coffee drinker to live the experience.
I heard about it on the tourist bus, I also saw it from the bus, so I went towards it as I got off the tour.
Opened in 1780, it has witnessed many movements, hosted the aristocracy, then top politicians, but also celebrities, including Mark Twain.
I waited in line to get a free table, but I had time to study the cake display and hear from the waiters what the most requested products were…
Besides a cake platter, I ordered the famous gianduiotto cake!
Turin boasts to have a centuries-old tradition in the art of making chocolate. Their brand is the ingot-shaped chocolate cake, called gianduiotto. So I couldn’t miss it in a historic cafe. (Okay, I admit, I later bought gianduiotti small chocolates – they are sold all over the city! And, if I were to exaggerate, I would also buy a magnet or a gianduiotto-shaped piggy bank. But I didn’t.)
After a thorough “study” while I was waiting in line, I also ordered zabaione – a very good drink, 100% Italian, made from egg yolk, sugar and wine, which gave me a state of euphoria hihi.
In Piazza San Carlo, one of the most famous cafes is this Caffe’ Torino, which dates back to 1903!
The interior is spectacular and I also liked the way the space is split. Not to mention the rich supply of products.
I went for the classic gianduiotto cake again. And a sensational non-alcoholic cocktail, with which I was given, free of charge, a plate with some extremely good small sandwiches. Thank you, guys!
The cafe stands out with something else: right in front of it, on the sidewalk, there is a bull. According to tradition, you have to rub your shoe on the… pardon me, bull’s balls, to be lucky. Of course I complied, I just wasn’t a sucker! Now I’ll wait and see how many numbers I get on the lottery…
I didn’t manage to enter the Baratti & Milano Confectionery, located right in the center, because there was always a long queue at the entrance and for me time was precious. The cafe dates from 1858 and was the meeting place of the Turin high class.
Next to it is the small Caffè Mulassano. Small, but famous! I went in because I really liked the way it looked and because… I was starving. I bought two small tramezzini (triangular sandwiches made with soft, crustless bread), and only a few days later I found out that these tramezzini were invented in this cafe! Here, these sandwiches reach the heights of haute cuisine. Well, they took care of my hunger, which gave them invaluable value hihi.
…and the two and a half days went. Full of everything – I even managed to get into a clothing store.
I came to a city towards which was not at all attracted, but from which I left excited and already having in mind the plan to return. Because I imagine that when the weather is nice, the city is even more lively than I have seen it. In addition, I still have places to see and a lot of things to eat J.