24 Jun Art Nouveau in Turin, Italy’s Liberty Capital
Turin is the Italian capital of understated chic.
The pocket-sized Paris of Piedmont, this place is innately – yet subtly – stylish, with an air of elegance which quietly, politely reminds visitors of the city’s historical importance. Despite its regal past, there’s no sense of snobbery, and while any other city of this size may feel overwhelming and impersonal, Italy’s Savoy ex-capital gives off a decidedly small-town vibe.
A grid system of roads giving visitors no hope whatsoever of indulging in that oh-so-authentic Mediterranean travel experience of getting hopelessly lost, a total lack of Roman ruins meaning nothing all too famous to wave a selfie stick around in front of, and the locals who’d really rather avoid visitors entirely than shout and gesticulate stereotypically at them at every opportunity mean that Turin is frequently not considered “Italian enough” to make the cut for tourists’ itineraries, with many bypassing it entirely in favour of canals and the Colosseum.
But Torino is no less intriguing than Venice, Florence, or Rome – it simply doesn’t shout about it from the rooftops and is – for some reason – still fairly undiscovered by foreigners.
Whenever any of my friends come to visit me here for the first time, their first reaction to the city is usually one of surprise and mild confusion. How can this city, famous only for factories, football, and Fiat 500s possibly be so… nice?
Well, while it may not be the capital of fashion, or archaeology, or art, Turin has incredible architecture by the bucketload, making it a pretty lovely place to explore. You can find impressive examples of Baroque, Renaissance, Neo-Classical, Rococo, and contemporary architecture around the city, but the style Turin is arguably most famous for is Art Nouveau, known locally as Stile Liberty and named after – you guessed it – Mr. Arthur Liberty of Liberty London fame.
Unlike the colourful period architecture that you can find elsewhere in the world (think Gaudì’s Barcelona, or Riga‘s Alberta Iela), the examples of Art Nouveau in Turin are – generally speaking – elegant, but surprisingly not in-your-face at all. It’s all… well… it’s very Torinese.
The period facades are attractive, but subtle; detailed without looking over the top; fancy, but not ostentatious. Instead of wavy roofs, shiny tiles and stuccoed cherubs, you’ll find tasteful, pastel florals, pretty patterned eaves, and peeps of gorgeous stained glass courtyard entrances hidden behind big, wooden apartment block doors for locals, more than tourists, to appreciate.
Finding Art Nouveau in Turin
Art Nouveau in Turin is not difficult to come across, and there are examples of Liberty architecture literally all around the city – from colourful stained glass windows in the city centre to elaborate villas on the “other side” of the river Po, in the exclusive Precollina area.
One of my absolute favourite places from the Liberty era is the Galleria Subalpina. Tucked away in a corner of Piazza Castello, this little arcade is almost like a museum, with dusty antiques shops, a cinema whose entrance wouldn’t look out of place in an old-fashioned film, and windows looking into one of Turin’s most famous historic cafés – Baratti & Milano. It’s fairly easy to miss if you aren’t looking for it, but well worth hunting down.
However, if you’re after a whirlwind tour of the Liberty style, the highest concentration of period buildings is in the quiet, residential (and happily tourist-free) neighbourhoods of Cit Turin and San Donato, located on either side of the Principi d’Acaja metro station on Corso Francia (Cit Turin is to the south of C.so Francia, and San Donato is to the north).
If you arrive on foot from the city centre, you can reach this area of town from Piazza Statuto or the Porta Susa train station in under 10 minutes, but you can just as easily get there from other parts of the city by bus or metro. If you have a bit more time, wander in from Piazza Castello in the city centre, along via Cernaia or Corso Matteotti – both of which will offer you some Liberty facades to get you in the mood.
A word of warning: Corso Francia is the longest road in Turin – there’s about 12km of it – so if you find yourself arriving from the Rivoli end and find yourself thinking, “It’s just a bit further down this road, let’s walk it”… think again, unless you’d like to arrive some time next year. Hop on the bus and thank me later.
You can find a few online itineraries for hunting down Art Nouveau in Turin (although all of the websites are in Italian only, and most haven’t been updated since circa 1993) but being absorbed in Google Maps is not going to help you spot what you’re looking for, so I’d advise noting down the addresses of a couple of must-sees and trying to wander map-free between them instead. It’s very difficult to totally lose your bearings in Turin, and even if you do, you might stumble across something even better than what you were originally looking for, or a great little place for a coffee, or both.
A good place to start your stroll is in front of the most famous example of the Liberty era in the city: the eccentric, Parisian-style Casa Fenoglio-Lafleur with it’s unmistakeable stained glass bow window. You’ll find it on the corner, just next to the Principi d’Acaja metro station itself.
If you’re a fan of Pietro Fenoglio’s architecture, you’ll be pleased to find lots of other examples of his work all around Turin – I’m going to be lazy and leave you a link to a Wikipedia page which lists loads of these in detail (it’s in Italian, but you’ll find a list with the building names towards the bottom).
Behind Casa Lafleur (in the San Donato area, to the north of Corso Francia) are a series of small, residential streets, all peppered with Liberty treasures and pretty details to spot. The highest concentration of loveliness – in my opinion – can be found in the area immediately around via Pietro Piffetti, but you don’t need to limit yourself to this section by any means.
One of my personal favourite examples of Art Nouveau in Turin is a little place on the corner of via Piffetti and via Beaumont – an adorable building known as Casa Tasca (which I’ve already mentally decorated and moved into) with the cutest floral balcony. It looks like a dolls house, and I’m in love.
A little further up via Piffetti – at number 10 – is maybe my favourite little detail of the area – a slightly faded Liberty-era painting of a woman, squeezed a little awkwardly between two windows. I’d actually come across a picture of this on Pinterest years ago, spent far too long on Google trying to figure out where it was, failed, given up, completely forgotten about it, and then happened to come across it last week – 5+ years later – while walking down the street towards my friend’s house and staring into space.
That, my friends, is the joy of Turin.
Continuing down Corso Francia, you can find another Art Nouveau building that Turin is famous for – the thoroughly unsubtle Palazzo della Vittoria, at number 23.
This one doesn’t exactly fit the brief of subtle and understated – I mean, the balconies are propped up by dragons and the golden door handles are shaped like lizards for goodness sake – but it’s definitely a must see (and actually surprisingly easy to walk past if you aren’t paying attention… you know… despite all the reptiles).
Cit Turin is the area “behind” the dragon house, and there are plenty of pretty apartment buildings and little details to stumble across here too, predominantly in the streets between Corso Francia and via Duchessa Jolanda.
One of my favourite details on of a lot of the houses around Cit Turin/San Donato is the decoration around the top of the building – from ground level, a lot of these places are very unoriginal looking, but just look up and you’ll see that a band of colour, or pattern, or both, has been added right at the top, and the place is a bit less anonymous than it first appeared.
If you’re wandering around the Cit Turin area, you’ll most likely (deliberately or otherwise) find yourself in a big market square, known as Piazza Benefica and home to one of Turin’s most famous local markets.
On the corner of the marketplace is another place I wouldn’t mind moving in to – this rather swanky tower. I’ll have the top floor with the terrace, thanks.
After 6 years in the city, I still notice a new adorable detail or a snazzy doorway that on an almost daily basis – sometimes in areas which I didn’t even know had Art Nouveau buildings, and often on facades which I’ve been strolling past obliviously on a regular basis (like the stained glass bow window, in the photo below, which I’d been merrily walking under, twice a day, every day, for over 2 years, before ever seeing it).
Art Nouveau in Turin, you see, is the gift that keeps on giving.
If you’re ever in Turin, keep your eyes peeled, and let me know about all the amazing Liberty details you come across – I’d love to hear how this pretty city compares to others you’ve visited.
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