Turin: The Road to Egypt

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Among so many treasures, there are certain artefacts in the Egyptian Museum of Turin that cannot be missed. Recently restructured in 2015, this museum has a long history of being one of the world’s foremost key players in the study of Ancient Egypt. The first museum of its kind to open in the world, it is now only second in importance and size to the museum in El Cairo.

Specialising in Egyptian archaeology and anthropology, it is home to one of the largest collections of Ancient Egyptian artefacts in the world. With over 30,000 pieces including scrolls, sarcofagi, mummies, and countless objects of everyday use, the Turin Egyptian Museum has allowed scholars and archaeologists to study the arts and beliefs of this ancient civilization to help improve our understanding.

Beginning from 4000 BC, the museum tells the story of this grand culture right up to 700 AD with a timeline starting from before the reign of Pharaohs and exploring the Old, Middle and New Kingdoms. Visiting the Museo Egizio in Turin is tantamount to taking a trip through the ages.

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Origins of the Turin Egyptian Collection

In 1630, what was thought to be the first Egyptian antiquity to arrive in Turin was the Bembine Tablet or Mensa Isiaca, a bronze tablet that is now understood to be Roman in origin. Despite these misconceptions, King Charles Emmanuel III, the Duke of Savoy and King of Sardinia at the time, was inspired and so sent Vitaliano Donati, a renowned doctor, archaeologist and botanist to travel to Egypt in 1753. He returned with 300 pieces of Egyptian history from different areas of the country.

Over the years the collection grew and when King Charles Felix of Savoy acquired the first collection with over 5,000 pieces, he invited François Champollion to study it. Champollion, who had deciphered hieroglyphics after the discovery of the Rosetta Stone, went to Turin in 1824.

More and more significant findings were added to the collection throughout the following centuries. In 1833, over 1,000 pieces were donated by Giuseppe Sossio and when Egyptologist Ernesto Schiaparelli became the museum director in 1894, he began a series of excavations in Egypt that would contribute the majority of today’s collection. Schiaparelli focused his digs in Gebelein, south of Luxor, and Deir el Medina, on the west bank of Luxor. At the time of most of these excavations, in the early 20th century, a law stating that whatever was found should be equally divided between Egypt and the benefactor country meant that he acquired thousands of objects of immense historical importance.

The most recent addition to the collection was given as a gift to Italy from Egypt to thank them for their help during the Rescue of Nubian Monument campaign in the 1960s. The Turin Museum received the Temple of Ellesyia. These rescue operations led to the famous Abu Simbel’s temple assembly and dismantling.

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Highlights of the Museum

Along with this latest acquisition, there are some awe-inspiring features that should not be missed on a trip to the Museo Egizio in Turin. Although no visitor could be blamed for getting lost in the centuries here, the museum’s recent restructuring has designed it so that one can go from the very beginning to the end without missing any of the truly fascinating antiques.

One of the most famous aspects of the museum’s collection is the Turin King List or the Royal Canon, a papyrus dating to the reign of Ramesses II. It is considered to be a list of all the kings prior to his reign. Parts of the list are missing, but it is still an incredible discovery that catalogues a large section of Egyptian history.

Among the various tombs, one of the most noteworthy and well-preserved is that of Kha and Merit. Kha is believed to have been the director of works for Amenhotep II, Thutmose IV and Amenhotep III. The funerary mask of Merit is on display and in impeccable condition. Much was recovered from their tomb because it was untouched as the sarcofagi were within various cases.

Other tombs to be visited at the museum include the Tomb of the Unknown from the 5th dynasty, the many ceramic and wooden artefacts from the tomb of Ini, and the tomb of Iti and Neferu. The latter was decorated with well-preserved wall paintings that can now be seen along the museum walls.

From other artefacts that are available in this museum, such as fragments of different books of the dead, scrolls and papyrus, decorated cloths, and numerous statues, we have been able to learn a considerable amount about the culture and beliefs of this ancient civilization. Given the immense number of historical items gathered in the Turin Museum, it is no surprise that visitors constantly wander through the museum halls in wonder.

It is now as it was then when Jean-François Champollion said that the road to Memphis and Thebes passes through Turin.

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Read also: Basilica of St. Zeno.

Church of the Gran Madre di Dio

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Turin is home to many religious edifices, the majority of which are part of the Roman Catholic Church. It is also a city of pilgrimage for many devout Catholics due to being the home of the Shroud of Turin, a cloth that bears the marks of a crucified man.

The Chiesa Gran Madre, or the Church of the Gran Madre di Dio, is an imposing church constructed to celebrate the return of King Victor Emmanuel I after the Napoleonic occupation. It is not actually owned by the Catholic church but by the city of Turin and is therefore a secular place of worship. It is located in front of the river Po, directly facing the Piazza Vittorio Veneto.

Although it was commissioned in 1814, after the defeat of Napoleon, construction took much longer than initially expected and it was not inaugurated until 1831. The architect was Ferdinand Bonsignore, who designed the church in a neoclassic style based on the Pantheon in Rome. This monumental structure tends, therefore, to seem older than it actually is. Due to its style and the lack of Christian symbolism, people are inclined to view the Gran Madre Church as a temple more than a church. Either way, it is an impressive sight and represents a victory for the people of Turin.

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Discover the Mysteries of the Chiesa Gran Madre

Many people believe that Turin is a magical place with different attractions displaying distinct signs of mysticism. There are various elements of the Chiesa Gran Madre which relate to religions that predate Catholicism and others which are considered esoteric.

Firstly, the location of the church is said to be the same site where primitive populations worshipped the goddess Isis, also called the Great Mother. Others claim that the location, close to the water, as an ancient symbol for bearing life, brings a mysterious energy to the church.

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Upon approaching the church, visitors first see the grand staircase and two statues either side. These represent Faith and Religion and were sculptured by Carlo Chelli. Faith is holding a chalice and is pointing, whereas Religion holds a cross. This has been construed to mean that Faith could be pointing at the hiding place of the Holy Grail.

There is an inscription above the church that reads ‘Ordo Populusque Taurinus Ob Adventum Regis’, roughly translated as ‘The nobility and people of Turin for the Return of the King’. This statement has, however, been interpreted in different ways.

Whether you’re a believer or not, this suggestive construction can awaken suspicions and cause enigmatic impressions on even the most sceptical of people.

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Borgo Po: Turin’s Bourgeois Neighbourhood

Beyond the church, visitors can find the most exclusive district in Turin: Borgo Po. Once a small village struck with poverty and filled with washerwomen and fishermen, it is now the most affluent part of the city with celebrity inhabitants. Cristiano Ronaldo has become one of the newest neighbours after moving to Turin’s most popular football club, Juventus, and purchasing a deluxe home in this charming area.

Borgo Po was home to Italian cinema when it began at the start of the 20th century and has since been heavily associated with the stage and famous faces, even after cinema production was moved to Rome.

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Photo by Valentina Locatelli on Unsplash

This luxury neighbourhood is home to ornate mansions and lavish villas, situated on the banks of the river Po. It is densely wooded, built upon the mountains, and yet close to the city centre, which makes it ideal as a comfortable, prosperous district.

Whether you choose to investigate the claims of a magic city or simply wish get to know a beautiful historic place, Turin has something to offer everyone.

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Read also: Castel San Pietro, Verona.

Parco del Valentino

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A peaceful curiosity washes over you as you enter the Parco del Valentino in Turin. One of the largest green areas in the city and beloved by visitors and locals alike. It stretches from the Umberto I Bridge all the way down to the Isabella Bridge along the river Po. Although not actually the biggest of the parks dotted around Turin, the Parco del Valentino is the oldest and most famous of them.

Created in the 19th century and inaugurated in 1856, the park fast became one of the most treasured spaces in the city for many. Wandering through this vast area, it can feel as though you have been transported from the city to the middle of nature.

The historical importance of the park is also central to the city of Turin. Despite the tranquil, relaxing ambience that it transmits today, it was once home to motor racing for almost twenty years in the mid-twentieth century. From 1935 to 1954, the Parco del Valentino held significant motor races, titled the Gran Premio del Valentino.

Nowadays, the park attracts visitors from all over due to its function as an attraction filled with history, architectural marvels, sports clubs, notable monuments, and spectacular flora and fauna.

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What to Visit inside the Park

This is not your average city park with simply lots of grass and trees. In addition to some of the main things to see in the Parco del Valentino that are detailed below, there are many other structures around the park including artworks from varying contributors, sports clubs for a range of diverse activities, blissful botanical gardens, and even the Torino Esposizioni, an exhibition hall which hosts business and cultural fairs. throughout the year.

Medieval Village

What is known as the Borgo Medievale in Italian, is a well-designed Medieval village built in 1884 for the Turin Expo. So popular was it at the time, that it has been maintained ever since and remains a favourite for many a visitor and tourist.

The village was constructed to be faithful to original 13th century medieval buildings taking into consideration many small details and characteristics specific to the period. The village was never dismantled due to the incredible craftsmanship and precision that promoted a genuine experience.

The village is complete with artisan workshops, houses, shops, and a medieval church.

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Il Giardino Roccioso

Additionally, there is a rock garden, based on an English garden with a stunning pathway for romantic walks. The route is dotted with sculptures and artwork that make it a beautiful backdrop for many wedding photo shoots. Some of the more peculiar sculptures include metallic cats in a medley of positions around the garden, in the water and flower beds.

The garden was added in 1961. There are various benches for those who wish to simply sit and take in the picturesque scenery. The calming atmosphere is created due to the numerous flowers scattered around that change as the year progresses. There are also around 200 varieties of exotic plants to be discovered. This short wander allows visitors a deep sense of connection with nature and a true feeling of well-being, despite being in the middle of Turin.

Il Castello del Valentino

Within the park, you can even find a castle! Now listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site, this once residence of the Savoys, is now home to a faculty of the Polytechnic University of Turin. Fortunate architecture students get to use this historic building as their studying ground. The current construction dates back to the 16th century.

The Legend of the Fontana dei Mesi

The Fontana dei Mesi, or Twelve Months Fountain as it is known in English, is famous for its architectural beauty but also for the legend that surround it. Added to the park in 1898 as another display for the Expo, the fountain consists of twelve statues around a basin which represent the twelve months of the year. There are another four statues in the centre which represent the four rivers flowing through the Piedmontese capital. These are the Po, Dora, Sangone and Stura.

An invitingly tranquil incorporation to the already charming park. However, the legend is less enchanting. It is said that a young Phaeton, who took the sun chariot from his father Helios, could not direct the horses. To avoid disaster, Zeus struck down the chariot with a lightning bolt and the fountain was built in the place that he fell.

Thanks to these diverse attractions inside the park, it could be comparable with taking a voyage through time and space as you travel through the centuries and experience pieces of history being played out on this natural stage.

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The Mole Antonelliana in Turin

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As you look out on the skyline of Turin, there is one building that stands out head and shoulders above the rest. That building is a symbol of the Piedmontese capital city and is known as the Mole Antonelliana. ‘Mole’ is the term that refers to a building of monumental proportions and this particular construction is named after Alessandro Antonelli, the architect who undertook the project in 1863.

As an excessively tall edifice in the historic centre of Turin, visitors often feel somewhat disoriented when they first lay eyes on it. The sheer immensity of the building and especially the dizzying height of the spire can easily unsteady an unsuspecting tourist. Add to that the fact that this towering building is also home to a few mysterious legends, it is easy to see why this is such a beloved major landmark in Turin.

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The History

Construction began on the Mole in 1863. The famous architect Alessandro Antonelli was commissioned by the Jewish community in Turin to create a synagogue in an area they had purchased.

Antonelli took it upon himself to use traditional stone materials to build the synagogue, although he dismissed the original plans of a 47 metre-high construction and continued to build upwards. It is said that Antonelli was a great friend of the French architect, Gustave Eiffel, and that they had discussed the issue of erecting a tower without a steel skeleton.

After several years and a lot of money had been spent, the Jewish community refused to let it continue and sold the contract to the Turin city council. The city continued to pay for the work until its completion in 1889. It was inaugurated on April 10, 7 months after Antonelli’s death, with a final height of 167.5 metres. It was, at this point, the highest building made of bricks and masonry.

Originally, Antonelli had planned to crown his tower with a 5-pointed star but instead, opted for a statue of a winged genie. The ‘Genio Alato’, as it was known, was sculpted by Fumagalli and remained atop the Mole until 1904. It was often mistaken for an angel. The tower was struck by lightning that year, which led to a replacement star being put in its place. Even later, during the 20th century, the tower collapsed due to a storm and when it was rebuilt, a second star was positioned on top.

In 1908, the Mole housed the Museo del Risorgimento. This museum is dedicated to the period of the unification of Italy and was moved to the Palazzo Carignano in 1938.

Displaying a sense of power and mysticism, the Mole served as a monument to national unity throughout the twentieth century. Finally in 2000, it became home to the Museo Nazionale del Cinema (National Museum of Cinema). As such, it is possibly the tallest museum in the world.

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Photo by Kilyan Sockalingum on Unsplash

 

The Legends

There are some rather peculiar superstitions and stories that have emerged over the past century regarding the Mole Antonelliana. This has helped to create an impression of spirituality linked to the tower.

Some people believe that the building is an antenna for positive energy. Founded on white magic principles, they understand that its pyramidal base and huge spire make it the ideal edifice for a supernatural connection.

One very famous visitor to the Mole was the German philosopher Nietzsche, who stayed in Turin for brief periods around the time of its completion. He loved the Mole Antonelliana and wrote to his family and friends claiming that he could see in the building a connection to his character Zarathustra. He nicknamed the Mole ‘Ecce Homo’, just like the book he had completed.

Perhaps the most well-known legend of the Mole is the superstition among students. It is said that a university student should never climb to the top of the spire or even look at the tip before graduation, and especially not during exam time as this will bring them bad luck in their studies. The understanding is that they could even fail and not graduate if they do so.

Despite these eerie tales, no trip to Turin would be complete without visiting the Mole Antonelliana and finding out for yourself what this sky-scraping monument truly inspires.

 

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Read also: Luxury Entertainment in Milan: the Teatro alla Scala and the Vittorio Emanuele II Gallery.

Torino’s Lounge: Piazza San Carlo

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The Piedmontese capital city Turin or Torino, lays claim to a square aptly nicknamed il salotto, the lounge of Torino. The Piazza San Carlo is an elegant, harmonious square located close to the city centre, where leading politicians and aristocrats throughout history would frequent cafés and bars to do business and socialise.

The square measures nearly 13,000m2 and is populated by shops, cafés, bars, and restaurants. It is dedicated to Saint Charles Borromeo (San Carlo Borromeo in Italian), who was Milan’s archbishop and cardinal of the Catholic Church from 1564 to 1584. In order to fulfill his vow he undertook a pilgrimage on foot to visit the holy shroud, also known as the Sindone, a linen cloth that represents the body of Christ. Emanuele Filiberto, monarch at the time, brought the shroud to Turin from France in 1578 to shorten the voyage.

The square is a place that takes people back in time to experience the majestic past that Turin has encountered throughout the ages.

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Centuries of History

The prestigious Piazza San Carlo is hugely significant in the history of the city of Torino. In the 17th century, the architect Count Carlo di Castellamonte began designing an expansion to beyond the Roman city walls which included the area of the square. Later, the archways were added and richly decorated, and two churches were constructed at the entrance to the square. These were known as the ‘twin’ churches consisting of San Carlo and Santa Cristina. The two buildings allow visitors to gain a keen understanding of the distinctions between architectural styles throughout the centuries. The facades offer an image of the contrasts in construction and art techniques and genres from these regal epochs.

The piazza was not always called San Carlo, however. It was first named Piazza Reale, later to be changed to Piazza D’armi due to its function as a meeting place for soldiers who would gather there to protect the city. During Napoleon’s campaigns in the northern regions of what is now Italy, the square became known as Place Napolèon.

There are remains of other historical events around the square also. In the facade of the Accademia Filarmonica Torino (Società del Whist), a cannonball is lodged in the wall. It is a souvenir from the French siege in 1706.

The square was also witness to a tragic event in 1864 when a peaceful protest against the decision to move the capital of Italy from Turin to Florence was overcome by force and resulted in the death of 148 people.

 

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Emmanuel Philibert, Duke of Savoy

An important figure in the history of Turin, Emmanuel Philibert (in Italian, Emanuele Filiberto) was the Duke of Savoy during the 16th century. He was esteemed for his military career where he became a general in the Spanish army. He triumphed in the battle of Saint-Quentin against the French. His uncle (mother’s brother-in-law), the King of Spain, Charles V rewarded him with the lands of Torino where he began building a capital city.

The Caval ‘d brons statue of Emmanuel Philibert stands tall in the centre of the Piazza San Carlo, as a symbol of his dedication to the city of Turin. He would often frequent the famous, elegant Caffè San Carlo in the square to conduct his noble and political life in the city.

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Traditions and Curiosities of the Piazza

The square is bordered with cafés and bars from the 18th and 19th centuries, lavishly embellished from an era of royal opulence. Stop by for a coffee or indulge your sweet tooth with a delicious regional delicacy in the popular, historical Stratta, a chocolate shop where the well-known gianduiotti were first packaged with golden wrapping. This particular type of chocolate was invented in Turin during the era of Napoleon. It is made with hazelnuts and came about as a substitute for previous chocolate, as less cacao was readily available due to the English attacks in South America as part of the Napoleonic Wars.

The most peculiar tradition to note about the square is the legend of the bull. There is a bronze bull statue in the floor of the square. The legend itself is actually worded in a subtle way, which is indicative of the discrete nature of the people of Turin. It states that by stepping on the ‘assets’ of the bull, one is likely to receive good luck. The bull has become synonymous with the city of Turin. Another odd tradition that has sprung from the first is the action of watching people come and go to step on the bull from the famous Caffè Torino.

Another curious fact about the square is that when the area was being excavating to build underground parking, they discovered remains that date back to Roman times.

Despite this wealth of information about the Piazza San Carlo, the sensation that visitors experience is one of tranquil elegance due to the sheer size and graceful embellishments within the cafés and decorations dotted around the square. To this day, it is a meeting place for tourists and locals alike to be witness to the events that take place in the city.

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Read also: The astonishing Verona Arena. One of the oldest Roman amphitheatre.

 

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