In my opinion, Palazzo Madama is the most bizarre and interesting architectural element of my city, Turin.
As the famous ancient poet Guido Gozzano said:
“The home of centuries is Palazzo Madama. None of the other building gather together so much time, history, poetry in his various decrepitude. […] Palazo Madama is like a stone synthesis of all of Turin’s past history, from the origins to the Roman age, to the days of our Risorgimento (period leading to unification of Italy) . “
Walking around this curious building, indeed, you can easily understand why this poet would say these words. Every part of history, the most ancient maybe a little bit more hidden, are still there, visible to the eyes of everyone walking in Castello Square (one of the most important squares of the city and my favorite one) as I’m doing every day on my way to the city center.
At the beginning of this building’s history, as well as in the ancients times of the city, there was one of the four entrance of Augusta Taurinorum, the old fortification where a unity of the Roman army were settled. This entrance, known as the Decumana Door, was the access of the Decumano Maximo, one of the two principal streets at that time which was crossing all the fortification in est-west direction perpendicular to the other main street, the Cardo, which was crossing it in north-south direction. It dates back to about the first century B.C. . After the fall of the Occidental Roman Empire, in 1276 the entrance became property of Guglielmo the VII marquees of Monferrato, who changed it into a fortified residence.
The small residence has been strengthen and raised as a squared castle (from this comes the actual name of the Turin’s square) , with four angular towers, a colonnade and a court, only during the XIV century, when the city was under the control of Ludovico of Savoia-Acaja. The extinction of the Acaja family made the castle become a secondary residence for Savoia’s family guests.
The 1637 is a milestone on the Palazzo Madama’s history: Maria Cristina of Borbone-France will choose it as her residence and will commission important restoration works, as the court covering and the modernize of the inner apartments. She was the first “Madama” (madam) living in the building; from this fact comes the name the palace will have in our times. Sixty years later another madama of the Savoy Royal House, Maria Giovanna Battista of Savoia-Nemours, will choose it as her residence. She wanted the trace of the ancient castle to be deleted or at least hidden: so, for example, the lift bridge was removed.
Filippo Juvarra finally made a project for her of a magnificent baroque palace in white stone, which was never concluded; what we now see is a scenographic entrance where we can admire the fabulous Juvarra‘s project, all in white marble. From that moment the palace has had several function: headquarter of the temporary French government in Napoleone’s campaigns, headquarter of the military force, astronomical observatory in the 1822… at the end, in 1934, it became the Civic Museum of Ancient Art and it function has remained so, to these days.
So, when I look at these mixed parts of Turin’s history both from inside and outside (inside you can also find a glass ground which allows guests to see the rests of the ancient structure) I realize how beautiful and intriguing is the past of my own city, and I am so happy that both the door, the castle and the palace were able to survive until today, to be admired all together from the eyes of the people who are (and who will) observe them in our modern times, in a wonderful and eclectic decoupage of history.
Residences of the Royal House of Savoy – Italy