Sunday, April 7, 2013

The Magic of Turin

On Piazza San Carlo
Turin is an elegant city of arcaded streets and monumental squares, but the magic doesn’t end there.  The world is supposedly composed of lines of energy and Turin is part of a triangle of white magic connecting with Lyon, France and Krakow, Poland.  BUT, Turin is also part of the black magic triangle that includes London and San Francisco, making it the one city with a foot in both camps.  Filled with both religious images and symbols of the occult, this truly is a city of good and evil.

View of the Alps from a street in downtown Turin
Situated at the foot of the Alps, the city is known as “Turin” to Americans, but Torino in Italy, meaning “little bull.”  Fiat built its first factory here, and for years, throughout the 20th century, Turin was known only for cars.  In fact, Turin has been the origin city of 70 car manufacturers, including Ferrari, Lancia, Alfa Romeo, and many we’ve never heard of, or that have gone defunct over the years.  The 2006 Winter Olympics changed everything when the world got a closer look at Turin, and residents started to realize the city had lots more to offer visitors than just a tour of the Automobile Museum.

We are staying in a wonderful apartment hotel called "Residence Sacchi" where we have an amazingly spacious multi-room apartment with a full kitchen.  And yet we still get daily maid service that includes fresh towels, detergent for the dishwasher, and even a vase of fresh flowers every few days.  We are going to hate to leave this apartment and this city!

The Egyptian Museum

Statue of Pharoah Ramses II
Believe it or not, Turin has the largest collection of Egyptian artifacts outside of Cairo, some of which date back to 2000 years BC.  The Museo Egizio offers a remarkable array of sarcophagi (some still holding dried up mummies), canopic jars that held the mummy’s internal organs, actual papyrus, and a whole army of shawabti (doll-like figures that were put into the person’s tomb and were intended to do agricultural work in the afterlife so the deceased could take it easy). 

Mummy of Kha
One room contained the treasures from an unplundered tomb, a rarity in itself since tomb robbers seem to find their way into all the Egyptian tombs.  Kha and Merit, were a wealthy, but non-royal couple whose tomb was filled with all kinds of stuff: a board game similar to checkers, dried up bread that held up pretty well over the millennia, and even an early western-style toilet!

Frank is impressed by Egyptian toilet design

Egypt in Turin: the Statuary Hall
at the Egyptian Museum
One of the best rooms of all was the Statuary Hall, a dark room lined with well-lit statues of famous/non-famous pharaohs, Egyptian gods, and sphinxes.  We almost felt as if we were in Egypt!







Walking Turin: Arcades and Piazzas

Ornate arcade outside our apartment
Turin is a great city for walking with about 12 miles of arcaded streets providing ornate, pillared porticos to protect pedestrians from the elements while shopping or just strolling the streets. Since we seem to have arrived during the rainy season, these arcades were much appreciated!  The city is also filled with beautiful palaces and all kinds of elegant architectural features.  Masonic and satanic symbols are said to be hidden in the architecture, proof that Turin really is a city of both white and black magic.

Carnival atmosphere on Piazza Castello in front of
Palazzo Madonna (Madonna Palace)
When Napoleon conquered Turin, he envisioned a city of gardens and public spaces, and as usual, he got what he wanted.  Turin has numerous piazzas, huge open spaces surrounded by impressive architecture like Piazza San Carlo with its historic cafes and Piazza Castello with its amazing baroque palaces.  Turin also has miles of pedonale (pedestrian-only) streets lined with top fashion shops and a never-ending supply of fine chocolatiers. Yummy!

Images of suffering miners on the monument in their honor
on Piazza Statuto
 One of the most interesting piazzas is Piazza Statuto said to lie at the apex of the black magic triangle.  The piazza looked pretty tame when we visited: beautiful buildings and a park where locals were pushing baby carriages and walking their dogs.  However, the square was once a Roman necropolis, and a guillotine was hard at work here during the days of the French Revolution.  The statue at the front of the square is also quite disturbing -- a craggy pyramid draped with male figures in poses of great agony.  The monument was dedicated to the miners who suffered and died while building the Frejus Rail Tunnel connecting Italy with France.  This was the very tunnel we rode through when we arrived here!

Ghoulish figures decorate the bulidings
of Turin

 The Shroud

Copy of the Shroud of Turin
The greatest symbol of white magic in the city is, of course, the revered Shroud of Turin.  The actual shroud is kept hidden in a vault in the duomo, and can only be shown in public on orders from the Vatican.  On the day before Easter, the Vatican allowed a film crew to video the Shroud.  We walked past the cathedral that day, and the whole area was swarming with security types and visiting dignitaries.  No, the Supsics were not invited for a private viewing of the shroud; it must have been an oversight.  No doubt heads will roll when they discover that omission!   

Image of how the Shroud originally covered the body
However, many copies of the Shroud are on display around town. The best one is the enlarged version of the face on the Shroud that is prominently displayed near the altar of the duomo (Turin Cathedral).  A silent video plays constantly on large flat screens positioned nearby, providing a tutorial (in Italian subtitles) that describes how the Shroud was placed over the body and explains flaws in the Shroud, such as holes and burn marks from the fire of 1532, and stains from water damage over the years.

Close-up of the face on the Shroud
To really get the skinny on the Shroud, we visited the Museo Sindone (“sindone” means "shroud" in Italian).  The sweetest, little old Italian ladies run this all-volunteer operation with great efficiency and dedication.  Although only one of them spoke any English, they were so kind and went out of their way to make us feel welcome.
The museum is careful to make no claims about the origin of the Shroud, but it is clear from all the evidence that the Man in the Shroud (as the museum refers to him) was crucified by the Romans. And the Shroud has been around for centuries, showing up repeatedly in paintings and other artifacts throughout the ages.  (A wonderful example of art supporting historical and scientific investigation.)  What is not clear is how the man’s image was imprinted on the Shroud.  Scientists are still studying this phenomenon; their best guess is that it was a result of some kind of geologic radiation.


Canaletto painting of Venice's Grand Canal on display
at the Pinacoteca Giovanni Marella Agnelli
Lingotto is an area south of the city center that was once the headquarters for car manufacturer Fiat.  Today, the sprawling Fiat factory has been turned into a giant shopping mall full of Italian fashions.  This former factory complex also includes an art museum called Pinacoteca Giovanni Marella Agnelli.  The small but significant collection included lots of Antonio Canaletto paintings (that always make us feel as if we are in Venice), several colorful Matisse paintings, and a lovely Renoir.

Pasta galore at Eataly!
Just beyond the mall, we spotted “Eataly,” a multi-story food store offering the best of Italy.  We never saw so much designer pasta, sauce, and breadsticks in one place!  The Eataly vendors also serve lunch, so we enjoyed wonderful thin-crusted margherita pizza with Dolcetto wine (a deliciously fruity red commonly found in this region).

Steam-powerd bicycle at the Turin Automobile Museum
After lunch, we walked over to the Museo Nazionale dell'Automobile (Turin’s Automoblie Museum).  The museum covered the history of the automobile including the steam-powered bicycle and other early motorized attempts making us appreciate how far we’ve come. 

Gorgeous red Ferrari at the Turin Automobile Musuem
The museum seemed a bit disjointed, but we certainly enjoyed seeing all the Ferraris and Alpha Romeos (Anne thinks a red Ferrari could brighten up her life).  A video with a collection of car commercials was also fun, including an old Oldsmobile commercial with a sing-a-long (just follow-the-bouncing-ball) called “Me and my Merry Oldsmobile.” The bad news is that Frank remembers those early commercials on TV!  Was it really that long ago?



 Mole Antonelliana

The Mole, symbol of Turin
The graceful 167-meter tower (547 feet) called Mole Antonelliana is the symbol of Turin, much like the Eiffel Tower is the symbol of Paris.  It was the highest brick building in the world when it was completed in 1889.  We took an elevator to the top for stunning views of the red rooftops of Turin, the many historical buildings, and the Po River nearby. 

Rooftops of Turin with the Alps in the background
as seen from the top of the Mole Tower
The Mole is also home to the Museo Nazionale del Cinema (Cinema Museum).  Again the museum felt disjointed, but we certainly enjoyed the displays on the history cinema from shadow puppets and simple optical tricks to Edison’s first attempts at making moving pictures.  Other displays included clips from all kinds of movies, a copy of the original screenplay for “The Godfather,” and Marilyn Monroe’s bustier! 

Our unintentional video broadcast at
Turin;s Cinema Museum
The funniest part of the museum was an interactive display that superimposed images of us into some footage from the movie “The Matrix.”  Of course, we had a great time messing around and taking photos of ourselves inside the movie.  Little did we know that our shenanigans were being broadcast on a big screen out in the main hall for all to see!





Tempting Turin

Super colorful display inside the famous
Pfatisch Sweets Shop
One thing that France and Italy have in common is that the gastronomic temptations are buono non basta (goodness non-stop)!  Turin has the most beautiful old chocolate shops loaded with goodies, and the shops seem to magically appear around every corner. 

Temptations of Turin!
Turin’s specialty is something called giandujotto, a luscious combination of chocolate and hazelnut paste.  Needless to say, we are stocking up on choco bars to bring home!

Fillin' our bellies at Zelli's Wine Bar
Another special treat in Turin are aperitivos.  Much like tapas in Spain, aperitivos are served in bars during the pre-dinner Happy Hour; however, rather than paying by the individual plates as you do in Spain, here in Turin you pay a single charge (i.e. about 8€), and you get a generous drink plus all the aperitivos you can eat. It's like tapas smorgasboard!!  Quite a good deal; for about $10 American, you can have a filling buffet dinner!  Our favorite aperitivo place is a wine bar called “Zelli” ; a great place to relax, drink wine, and eat till you can't antmore – or as we like to say "Zelli will fill your belly" (LOL)!





 Eccentric Italy

The Italian people have been nothing but kind and charming; however, the Italian culture can be a bit eccentric.  Here are some examples:

How do you think the Post Office came up with
these bizarre hours?
A man and his cow -- an advertisement for milk.

Hard to know which via Nizza we should take!

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