Turin is such a subdued, unassuming city that it’s easy to forget its touristy side. But there is a world to see here — if you know where to look. Which I do.
Mercato di Porto Palazzo
‘The Palace Gate’ is Europe’s biggest open-air market. Open seven mornings a week and on weekend afternoons, it’s a sprawling area of folding tables covered with fresh fruit, vegetables, cheese, meat, flowers, clothes, household goods and used items. Wandering with other shoppers gives you a good appreciation of the city’s diversity—Africans, Arabs, Asians and East Europeans and Italians of every regional stripe are all united by a borderless appreciation of bargains.
This impressive piazza is the official heart of the city. It is here you will find the Savoy Castle museum and gallery, the Palazzo Madama Christina, the tourist information office, the cathedral of San Lorenzo, the opera house and an excellent focacceria. Today there was also a Christmas market.
The first thing most people think of when they hear ‘Turin’ is the holy shroud—Christ’s linen winding sheet. A strip of fabric 4.3 metres long and 1.1 metres wide, it bears the faint imprint of a face as well as stains that would correspond to those of Christ after the crucifixion. Kept in the Chapel of the Holy Shroud of the Cathedral of San Giovanni Battista, it is rarely on display. However, there is a museum of the shroud on Via San Domenico, where you can view a short video about the shroud’s history as well as copies and photographs.
The first verified owner of the shroud was Geoffroi de Charney (1300-1356), a true and perfect knight and author of a Book of Chivalry. There is a pilgrim badge depicting the shroud for visitors to Lirey, where it was displayed in the collegiate church. In 1453 Geoffroi’s granddaughter Marguerite gave the shroud as a gift to the House of Savoy in Chambéry, where it was damaged by fire and water in 1532, then patched up by nuns. In 1578 it was moved to Turin, where it has remained ever since.
Ever since it first popped up in the fourteenth century, there has been considerable doubt about its authenticity even among believers. In 1389, the bishop of Troyes denounced it as false, calling it “cunningly painted, the truth being attested by the artist who painted it”. Recent carbon dating of the linen suggests that it was created between 1290 and 1390. However, even those who accept it is not genuine value it as a powerful and inspiring evocation of the Passion.
Museum of Oriental Art (MAO)
Just down the road from the Museum of the Shroud is a museum full of breath-takingly beautiful artefacts from the Far East. Chinese pottery, Indian boddhisatvas, Japanese statues, Himalayan textiles– this museum is a repository of rare treasures. Large maps and informative posters help contextualize a bewildering array of objects, though English captions aren’t always provided.
National Cinema Museum in the Mole Antonelliana tower
The Mole Antonelliana, the tallest unreinforced brick building in the world, is such a distinctive symbol of the city of Turin that you can buy liqueur in bottles in its shape.
The building has a pretty interesting history. When Italy was officially unified in 1848, religious minorities gained full civil rights. Accordingly, Turin’s Jewish community allotted a sum of 25,000 lire to have a grand synagogue built, hiring the architect Antonio Antonelli to realize the project. By 1864, the ambitious (not to say maniacal) Antonelli had spent more than three times the allotted sum and the building was climbing ever higher. The City bought the project out and Antonelli kept working at it until his death in 1888, a year before it was finally completed.
The museum includes a huge collection of pre-cinema artefacts, particularly magic lanterns. Thanks to the grand design of the Mole, the exhibition space is rather unusual—there is a vast floor in the centre and a ramp that skirts the walls, winding up and putting the fear of god into museum goers with acrophobia.
Baratti & Milano Café
When our friend Thierry visited us the other week, he took us to this café, established in 1858 famous for its sweets and chandeliers. We have often walked past its elegant windows and peeked at tea-sippers dressed to the nines. The sweets were dainty and delicious and the atmosphere (velvet ropes, formal waiters, chandeliers) very Old World–you could easily imagine why this was one of the city’s most popular tea halls of the nineteenth century.
Egyptian Museum (Il Museo Egizio)
Turin has one of the world’s largest collections of Egyptian antiquities. We’ve been three times and still haven’t come close to appreciating all its wonders.