For more than 50 years, the Royal Family of Italy was banished from their homeland. Specifically, the male members of the Royal Family, from the House of Savoy, were forbidden to return to Italy after the end of the Second World War.
Recently, the Parliament of Italy has agreed to allow their return provided they swear allegiance to the present Italian Republic. Though they are back on Italian soil however, they can never again take full possession of the magnificent castles and residences which were once theirs by birthright.
Homes of an exiled king
The Royal House of Savoy had its origins in the region of Piedmont, and their capital was for many years in the city of Turin. Over the years, as Dukes of Savoy and later as Kings of Sardinia, they have built or acquired several fine palaces and today, they are collectively recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site, known as the Savoy Residences.
These palaces include several outstanding palaces located in the countryside outside of Turin, such as the Castles of Rivoli, Moncalieri and Aglie. Noteworthy among those within Turin are the Palazzo Reale, Il Valentino, Palazzo Carignano and Palazzo Madama.
The Palazzo Reale was the primary residence of the Royal Family. Originally begun in 1646, several major additions 18th and 19th Centuries added to the dimensions of the palace, and today, it is open to the public. The original 16th Century sections feature a Grand Staircase leading from the entrance hall, the high roofed Swiss Room, which houses a painting by 15th Century artist Palma the Young. The state rooms — the Throne Room, the council Room and the Audience Room — are the most magnificent in this complex. A fine collection of tapestries and paintings fills the Sala dei Corazzieri.
The 18th Century parts were built by Juvanna and Benedetto Alfieri. The Secretaries wing, the Royal Theatre and the Academy were built in this period. In the 19th Century, the Royal Square took its present form and was decorated with statues of Castor and Pollux, by Abondio Sangiorgio. A final addition was made in the early years of the 20th Century to house the offices of the Royal House. Roman-period ruins were discovered on this site as work commenced. As it was built over several hundred years, the Palace contains elements of widely varying styles from the different eras when it served as the administrative centre of a Kingdom.
Guarino Guarini, who had designed the chapel of the Holy Shroud attached to the Royal Palace, designed the Palazzo Carignano. It has an intricately decorated façade, while the interiors feature frescoes and mirrored walls. The historical significance of this Palace lies with its role as the House of Parliament for Sardinia from 1848 until 1865. It was to have continued in this role, as the home of the Parliament for a united Italy, but the capital was moved to Florence before a new wing was completed for this purpose. Today, fittingly, the Palazzo Carignano is home to the Museum of the Risorgimento, dedicated to the wars of unification in the 19th Century.
Palace of the Royal Ladies and the Piedmontese Castles
The site of the Palazzo Madama is filled with ancient history. It was built on the site of the gates to the town during the Roman era. It first became a fortress house in the 13th Century and was transformed into a castle in the 15th Century, by the new House of Savoy owners. The palace got its baroque facades and decorated apartments in the early 17th Century period. The Palace is so named because of the influence of two Royal Ladies who contributed much to the contruction of the Palace — Christina of France and Maria Giovanna Battista. This was continued in the early years of the 18th century with the addition of a grand front facing Via Garibaldi. Interesting features inside include 2 grand staircases leading from the main hall, apartments of the two royal Ladies, the Room of the Four Seasons, and the Swiss Room, which was the meeting place of the Parliament. Today, the Palace is the home of the Museo Civico d’Arte Antica — a fitting development for a palace built on an archeological site.
Il Valentino refers to a complex of gardens and residences by the River Po. It was acquired as a hunting ground for the Savoy family in 1564. Christina of France chose to stay regularly at the Castle in the estate. The castle consists of three wings flanking a large courtyard. Mostly built within the 17th Century, the Castle’s Moncalieri and Turin apartments house several grand rooms and halls. The park contains a botanical garden founded by the ruler Vittorio Amadeo II in 1729, and includes a Herbarium with over 2,500 species of plants. A village harkening back to the medieval way of life was conceived and built on the estate in conjunction with the Italian Exposition of 1884. Authentic furnishing were sourced from villages and towns around the region.
The Castle of Aglie lies 15 km north of Turin. Built in the 12th Century for the Counts of San Martino, the castle was transformed into a grand palace by order of Fillippo di San Martino in 1642. Two parallel wings were built, and included a ballrooms and a Chapel. After damages were sustained in a war with France, the castle became a possession of the Savoys and a new section was built to connect the castle to the village. This extension includes a room dedicated to the Hunt, while a new square connected the castle with the village square. In 1825, the King began a project to redecorate the castle and a room was set aside for the display of Roman archeological artifacts found in Tuscolo. Today, it belongs to the state and is under renovation.
Beginning as a fortress in the 12th Century, the Castle of Moncalieri gradually took on the look of a ducal palace with additions in the late 15th Century and through the 17th and 18th Centuries. Several towers punctuate the complex, and the interior is noted for its luxurious furnishing. Notable rooms are the apartments of the princesses Maria Letizia and Maria Clotilde, the apartments of King Vittorio Emanuele, and the reception rooms.
The castle of Rivoli has been the scene of many foreign occupations and failed bids to build opulent palaces. Built on the ruins of an 11th Century Castle, a new project was proposed in 1718 to build a palace to rival the finest in Europe. It was not carried out. At the end of the 18th Century, another plan to build a great palace was mooted, but was interrupted by the invasion of Napoleon. The castle passed into the hands of the municipal government in 1860. During the Second World War, German troops occupied a part of the castle for their operations. A decision was made to convert the castle into a Museum of Contemporary Art in 1978, and the castle was ready to host its first exhibition in 1984. Over 18 hectares of land in the nearby hills now form a dedicated park area.
The Kings of Savoy can now return to their ancestral homeland to see the palaces that bear their family name. You too can enjoy these monuments to a historic kingdom on your next trip to Turin.