Saturday, February 10, 2007

January 2007 - Turin, Italy - Home of the Olympic Flame

Turin is a beautiful city with great uniformity in its architecture and more miles of covered porticos than any other city in Italy (except Bologna). Hands down, the 2 highlights of this city are the Mole Antonelliana (the original symbol of Turin and now also the Museo Nazionale del Cinema) pictured below and,the Olympic flame which remains here in Piazza Vittorio Veneto, Turin's liveliest square, until the 2008 Summer Games in Beijing.When we arrived in Turin, the city was completely covered in fog. The pictures below look like Monet paintings, particularly this one . . . of Ponte Umberto I crossing the Po River. And below is Santa Maria del Monte sitting atop Monte dei Cappuccini.

And here's us on Ponte Vittorio Emanuele I, with Po River behind us and Santa Maria del Monte on the left.
The circular building below, on the other side of the Ponte Vittorio Emanuele I, is a church called Gran Madre di Dio, built in the same fashion as the Pantheon in Rome.

And here's a closer shot of Gran Maria di Dio. Amazing how much it resembles the Pantheon from far away but as you approach it you realize how small it is compared to real thing (and the inside is far less impressive.

From the steps of Gran Madre di Dio, we had a great view of the Piazza Vittorio Veneto (below), a large public square surrounded by restaurants used for public events (i.e., there was a huge rock festival going on while were there) and displaying the Olympic flame. The piazza is behind the statue on the left, just across the river. The spire-like structure in the center is the Mole.

One of the best things about Turin are the porticos covering the most of the side-walks, which allow you to walk the entire city center in the wettest weather without being subjected to the elements. Below is a shot of us under one of the porticos on Via Roma, a wide avenue for high-end shopping lined with Turinese Baroque buildings with the most beautiful porticos in town.
We also really enjoyed how beautifully all the streets were lit up at night. You cannot turn a corner without discovering a new lighting scheme and bright colors.

Turin also has wonderfully lit up and lively piazzas. Piazza San Carlo is "the heartbeat" of Turin. Although it was heavily bombed in WW II, it is the loveliest and most uniform in architecture in the city. The square and the large porticoed walkways surrounding it were designed by Carlo di Castellamonte. Significantly, this is where the most prestigious political figures in Italy once met to discuss and plan the unification of the country.

Even smaller squares such as this one housing the national library are beautifully lit up at night displaying the simplified baroque architecture created in Turin. This city is considered one of the most neat and attractive in Italy because of the overwhelming uniformity of this style of baroque architecture used in all major buildings and most residences.

Here, we are in Piazza Reale which is bordered by the Palazzo Reale and the Royal Armory.

This is the Palazzo Reale, which was the main residence of the Savoy dynasty since 1645, designed and built by Amedeo Castellamonte in a rich baroque style. The Savoy family had a ruling presence in Turin for about 800 years (since about 1100). This family even provided the 1st king of the unified Italy, Vittorio Emanuele II.
This is one of the original gates used to close in the city during the Middle Ages when Turin was a wealthy kingdom under Savoy rule and constantly under threat from the French. The Savoy's were considered as much French as they were Italian, and they lost their power to Napoleon for a time. Thus, their French tendencies shows in the architecture and decoration of the Palazzo.
Dining in Turin is a wonderful experience. As in Limone, restaurants serve traditional Piemontese cuisine, which is buttery and cheesy and incorporates many forms of stewed or braised meats. Our first night out we ate at Porto di Savono. Everything from the cuisine to the waiters/waitresses seemed caught in a time warp. This waitress is slicing prosciutto paper thin on an antique manual meat slicer. It takes quite a bit of coordination as she pumps the machine with one foot while guiding the cutter forward and back with one hand and using her other hand to hold the huge chunk of ham with even pressure against the blade. The food was excellent, especially the homemade tortellini in brodo (like a meat gravy).

Our second night in Turin, we ate at C'era una Volta ("Once Upon a Time") - a Michelin-starred restaurant that also offers classic Piemontese cuisine but in a fancier setting. The restaurant and the service was excellent. Again, we were most impressed by the homemade pasta and the delicate cheese sauce and the warm decor.

Turin is one of Italy's biggest cities and certainly requires more than 2 days to explore, but we did our best for now. We'll surely be back.

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