The Valentino Park
Turin's romantic park between the river Po and the
Its history and what it contains
Its origins ...
This celebrated park extends along the left bank of the river Po at the foot of the hills, between the King Umberto I and Princess Isabella bridges. It is very close to the centre of town, and about one kilometre from the Porta Nuova main railway station.
It no longer is Turin vastest park, as its some 500,000 square metre area now ranks second after the 840,000 square metre Pellerina Park, Italy's most extended urban green area.
The origins of its name are rather uncertain. The first document bearing the name Valentinium is dated 1275; some trace it back to Saint Valentine, as the remains of this young 13th Century martyr Saint had been preserved in a crystal container in the Church of Saint Vitus on the hill facing the Valentino Park since the 18th Century before being transferred here following on the destruction of a small church close to today's green area.
Some experts claim that the 14th of February (Saint Valentine's today) was celebrated in a peculiar mixture of religious remembrances and mundane entertainment with a party in which each lady called her Cavalier Valentino.
The park was opened in 1630 on a project by Carlo Cognengo di Castellamonte and later completed by the designer's son Amedeo in 1660. In 1864 it was partially redesigned by French designer Barillet with a better layout of avenues and lanes, little woods, artificial dales, a small riding-track and a mini-lake, later dried out and used as skating rink during the Winter season.
The great International Exhibitions of 1884, 1898, 19021, 1922, and 1928 were held in the park grounds. A pleasantly flowered dale crossed by streams and full of flowers beds, with a nearby rock garden was created for the 1961 Exhibition. The rose garden was created in 1965 and was later enlarged for the Flor 62 Flower Show.
The park contains a host of prestigious buildings:
The Botanical Gardens
This is the seat of the Department of Vegetal Biology of Turin University. It was enlarged in 1894 with the addition of the Arboretum.
The Gardens are one of the main study centres of Italian botany. The herbarium contains some 700,000 specimens (the second largest collection after the one at Florence).
The story of the plant life studied here is contained in the 65 volumes of the Iconografia Taurinensis, that includes 7640 water-coloured tables made between 1752 and 1868. The green houses, gardens and alboretum, scientific laboratories and its rich library of 500,000 volumes together with Italy's most important collection of 700 specialised publications make Turin's Botanical Gardens rank among the most internationally famous.
It is no doubt the whole park's most famous building. Its origins date from the early 26th Century. Emanuele Filiberto of Savoy acquired it in 1564. Later Carlo Emanuele I (the Iron Head's son) bequeathed it to Marie Christine of France (the Madama Reale) who used it as her favourite residence and lived there at length with her court.
The Castle was completely refurbished from 1621 to 1669, first by Carlo di Castellamonte and later by his son Amedeo. The building presents two different fašades: the main one towards Turin has the same architectural features as French 17th castles and contains elements of the Italian building baroque style; the other facing the river Po is brickwork. The halls, particularly the Central Hall and the Hunting Room on the first floor (accessed by two stairways) preserve traces of the old 17th Century splendour, with rich stuccoes and allegorical memorial frescoes. The pavement of the large courtyard is chiaroscuro stonework and contains its original design motifs.
Battles were fought around the Castle, agreements and armistices stipulated and alliances signed. Its vaults record the most salient dates of Piedmont's history, as those at Palazzo Madama. Today it is the seat of Turin Polytechnic's Faculty of Architecture.
Medieval Castle and Village
This magnificent complex consists of the Medieval Village and the fortified Stronghold or Castle. It rises close to the Principessa Isabella bridge and is also accessed by a boat service from the Murazzi. Its crenellated walls, many-towered castle, drawbridge, fortified houses, narrow streets and lively artisan shops are a faithful replica of a 15th Century Village.
It was built for the 1884 Turin International Exhibition mostly on designs by the eclectic Alfredo d'Andrade, a naturalised Italian Portuguese artist, a great connoisseur of the Piedmontese Middle Ages and restorer of many castles and abbeys in Piedmont.
The Torino Esposizioni and Underground Pavilion Complex
This is a venue for prestigious events. It was the seat for the International Motor and Industrial Vehicles Shows until 1990 (when they were transferred to the Lingotto Exhibition grounds). The complex also houses the Teatro Nuovo and the Ice Palace.
SocietÓ Promotrice delle Belle Arti
The Society was founded in 1842. It lies to the right of the Castello del Valentino and is used for temporary art exhibitions.
Villa Glicini is the headquarters of the Turin Fencing Club, founded in 1879. Many international foil, sabre and sword fencing competitions are held here annually. Italy's first Society of Gymnastics was founded here in 1884.