Magic. Turin is full of it, and legend has it that the capital of Piedmont is part of two magic triangles – the triangle of white magic (with Lyon and Prague) and the triangle of black magic (with London and San Francisco). But the magic of Turin is told not only through myths and legends but also through history. Augusta Taurinorum was founded by the Romans at the intersection of two rivers – the Po and the Dora – thus respecting the laws of magic that required that a city have four gates facing the four cardinal directions. And thus perhaps Turin’s particular atmosphere, especially in the old historical center, comes from its ancient founding. In any event, Fruttero and Lucentini have described this atmosphere in their mystery books, and Gustavo Rol (trusted medium of Federico Fellini) was surely influenced by it. And while you don’t have to believe all the stories, you can have fun by allowing yourself to be seduced by the special atmosphere of this city of legends, myths, and magic.
When you look at Turin through the eyes of magic, you discover a different city: a secret and underground one. This Turin is literally hidden under the houses, in the tunnels which run underground, deep beneath the city. Take piazza Statuto for example. This piazza might seem to be nothing more than a large and pleasant open space near porta Susa. But, if you are interested in the magical side of Turin, you’ll learn that this piazza is the “black heart” of the city, and that in this area of the city during Roman times there was a “vallis occisorum” or necropolis (from which comes the name of the nearby city quarter Valdocco). The old vallis occisorum now lies buried under via Cibrario, corso Principe Eugenio, corso Francia and various other streets of the area. Piazza Statuto was also the site of the gallows of Turin until the French moved them to a place the Piedmontese call “il fondò della forca” at the intersection of corso Regina Margherita and via Cigna. And if you look closely in the garden of the piazza you might discern a manhole cover. This manhole leads to a mysterious underground world: most will say it leads to the center of the sewer system, but some contend that it leads to the Gate of Hell (well, that’s how the legend goes).
If you walk a few hundred meters away from piazza Statuto, past corso Svizzera, you will come to via Michele Lessona where the “Domus Morozzo” once stood. Although there is no trace of it today, Domus Morozzo was the residence in Turin of the most famous fortuneteller of all time: Nostradamus. Then if you return to piazza Statuto and the gallows, you can head to the nearby chiesa della Misericordia (church) in via Barbaroux. Here prisoners sentenced to death were given their last rites. In 1720 the church was made property of the “Misericordia” brotherhood, and today it offers an exhibit dedicated to its past function. Visitors can see the list of people sentenced to death, the black hoods, the small glass for a last drink, the crucifix, and the ossuary beneath a marble slab.
The curious sites in this area don’t end here – in la chiesa di Santa Maria di Piazza there is a painting of the Madonna which some maintain was painted by Saint Luke. Others claim that the veil of the Madonna is buried in a nearby secret location.
If you then head toward via Sant’Agostino, you can walk down the small via Bonelli where the executioner of Turin once lived. From there, in just a few minutes, you can walk to piazza Solferino, one of the main piazzas of the city. In the piazza you’ll notice la Fontana Angelica (fountain), an allegorical representation which portrays, according to the mystics, the Gateway to Infinity.
Continuing a few meters in the same direction, you’ll come to the lovely piazzetta Corpus Domini which houses la chiesa del Corpus Domini. This church was built in the 1600's on the exact point of the “Miracle of Turin”. In the year 1453 a thief was attempting to sell stolen sacred good from la chiesa di Exilles in Val di Susa. Suddenly a shining host rose up from the thief’s sack and hovered suspended in the air. Only the prayers of the faithful and the words of bishop Ludovico di Romagnano brought the host to earth again.
From piazzetta Corpus Domini you are only a few seconds away from the center of the city: piazza Castello. Piazza Castello is not only the heart of the city, but it is also the magical heart of the city, or at least in terms of the white magic of Turin. The mystics affirm that the center of Turin’s positive energy lies near Palazzo Reale, between the piazzetta Reale and the gardens, right where the fontana dei Tritoni (fountain) is located. And as if all this weren’t enough, not far off you can walk to the Duomo, home of the Holy Shroud, a symbol of the positive message of Christianity. But evil is always lurking about – some believe that the gate of the Palazzo, framed by the equestrian statues of Castore and Polluce, is actually the threshold which divides the city of saints from the city of devils.
Turin’s city center has a few more secrets for you to uncover. For example the Museo Egizio (Egyptian Museum) has always had something magical about it (such that recently the newspapers were eager to attribute a few innocent maladies of students visiting the museum to the effects of a “curse”). And Palazzo Madama sits over the underground Grotte Alchemiche (Caves of Alchemy) where the “scientists” of the Savoy House supposedly worked to find the Sorcerer’s Stone.
From here, you can take via Po and head towards the river. Once you’ve passed the river and piazza Vittorio, you’ll come to one of the symbols of Piedmontese mysticism: la chiesa della Gran Madre di Dio. Some legends go that the Holy Grail is buried beneath the church, others that one of the statues in front of the church pointed to the direction where the Holy Grail is buried (unfortunately the statue has since been destroyed).
But all these tidbits of information – which put together allow for only a brief sketch of this magical city – cannot begin to communicate the enchantment of the very air which you breathe in the streets of the old city center. The only way to truly understand and appreciate this spell is to explore Turin and experience its unique atmosphere for yourself!