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Turin History

Turin, a place where beauty and passion meet history.

turin history
Torino by night

Turin is the capital of the Piedmont region and is located in the northwest area of Italy. Torino, as the Italians call it, is a major industrial city that lies along the Po River. The Po stretches from Mount Monviso in the Alpie Cozie (Southwestern Alps) to the Adriatic Sea near Venice. Torino is home to one of the most famous relics of Christendom, the Shroud of Turin, and some of the most outstanding museums (The Egyptian Museum is the second largest in the world, after that of El Cairo) and architectural beauties in the country (think of Palazzo Reale or the other Savoia Royal Houses, all of them part of Italy’s UNESCO heritage patrimony).

It is a large, vibrant city, with a population of about 900 thousands, with the outlying areas driving that number to around 1.5 million.

Turin derives its name from a Celtic word tau, meaning mountain. Torino was founded almost 2400 years ago by a Celtic tribe, the Taurini. The Taurini conquered much of France and part of Spain before heading into what is known today as Italy. In Italian “torino” means “little bull”. The bull is still part of the city standard (flag) to this day.

turin history
Piazza San Carlo, Turin

Hannibal, during his Alpine campaign, destroyed much of the city. However, by the first century AD, Turin was on its way to being rebuilt. The Castra Taurinorum, a military camp for the Roman army, was created at this time. Castra Taurinorum was eventually dedicated to Augustus Caesar and renamed Augusta Taurinorum (cerca 28 AD). The square city plan with streets ending in right angles that was a Roman trademark still thrives in modern Torino.

When the Roman Empire fell Torino, which was always prized for its fertile land and access to the River Po, was conquered by various barbarian tribes including the Goths, Lombards and Franks, who established the city as an earldom in the 8th century AD.

turin history
Royal Palace Ballroom in Turin

However, when the Savoy family dynasty conquered the city in the year 1280, the city would finally begin its rise to prominence. The history of Torino for the next 600 years is wedded to that of the House of Savoy. Emanuele Filiberto, a Duke from the House of Savoy, made Turin the capital of his duchy in 1560. Emanuele founded the order of the Knights of St. Maurice, with the Pope’s blessing. The Sacred Shroud of Turin, a cloth which is said to bear the likeness of Christ, was brought to the city during Emanuele’s reign. Emanuele Filiberto’s great-grandson, Carlo Emanuele II, was also a defender of the faith. He helped eradicate the Waldensian heresy from the Piedmont region and assured that Torino would remain a Catholic city.

turin history
Tram in Turin. Ph. Maurizio Montanaro on flickr

The Savoia are also credited with bringing art, culture and architecture to Torino. The Italian royal family certainly spared no expense to make Torino beautiful. Despite their best efforts to ‘Italianize’ the city, Torino’s layout is often compared to Paris more than any other Italian city.

To this day, the vestiges of Savoyard rule can be found in the palaces, the grand boulevards, squares and streets of Turin. During the 17th century, Torino became quite the center for Baroque architecture in Europe. It is still largely regarded as one of the finest Baroque cities and attracts many tourists for this reason alone.

turin history
Galleria Sabauda in Turin

In the year 1861, after some difficult years, the House of Savoia became the rulers of Italy. Vittorio Emanuele II was crowned king. During this time, Turin was the capital of all of Italy and, as one can imagine, a center for Italian nationalism. Vittorio Emanuele II ruled over a ‘united Italy’ as well as Sicily due to the successful conquests of his predecessors. In 1864, the capital moved to Florence. Rome became Italy’s permanent capital in 1871.

turin history
King Vittorio Emanuele II in a picture by Cesare Bernieri Ph. courtesy The Metropolitan Museum of Art

The Savoia would reign over Italy until the end of the Second World War, when a national referendum chose the Republic as the national form of government. However, the family’s rule upon the country had in truth ended with the advent of Fascism and the power of Benito Mussolini.

In any case, by the end of the war Turin had turned its attention to industry: Turin is one of the world’s greatest automobile centers. Fiat, the great Italian car company, still calls it its home base. The name FIAT stands for Fabbrica Italiana Automobili Torino (Italian Car Company of Turin). It was founded by a group of investors in 1899.

As one can clearly see, Torino is a city that’s steeped in history. This history has shaped its industry, economy, people and landscape. Torino is truly a place where beauty and passion meet history.

turin history
Old Cars exhibition in Turin. Ph. Maurizio Montanaro on flickr

By Deanna Couras Goodson

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