Residences of the Royal House of Savoy, Turin, Italy
I’m not really sure the Royal House of Savoy needed to prove its power to anyone at the time. But, just in case there was any doubt, this Italian family set out in the 16th century to build a vast series of impressive palaces to remind everyone who was in charge. What was created – what we can now enjoy as visitors – were the Residences of the Royal House of Savoy.
The royal titles for the family began in 1003 when they controlled Savoy, a piece of land that is now around where the borders of Italy, France and Switzerland meet. Over the centuries, they expanded their territory until they ruled most of northwest Italy – the region then known as Sardinia.
In the end, the House of Savoy led the unification of Italy in 1861 and ruled the Kingdom of Italy from then until the end of World War II, when the country became a republic.
As I said, a very important family that had little to prove.
But that didn’t stop their ambitious construction plans after they moved their capital to Turin in 1562. Over the coming years, a series of enormous palaces was built throughout the centre of Turin and recreational lodges were built in the surrounding countryside.
These were opulent residences and holiday homes – but they were also a symbol of an absolute monarchy that should not be challenged.
Visiting the palaces in Turin
Today, the royal palaces of Turin and the countryside lodges have been protected and you can visit many of them. Collectively, they are part of a World Heritage Site that has 14 locations. I have marked them on this map below so you can see where each of them is.
For this trip through Italy, I don’t have a car and have been relying on public transport. As it turns out, it’s quite difficult to get to the Savoy residences around Piedmont on public transport. So I’ve decided to focus on the palaces in Turin (which are much more impressive in scale and opulence anyway).
If you are interested in visiting these yourself, I would recommend getting either the Torino+Piemonte Card or the Royal Card, both of which offer free entry to all the palaces. At the end of this post, I’ll give you a bit more information about which might be the better option for you.
For now, though, let me show you the Turin palaces.
The Palazzo Reale (Royal Palace) is on the northern edge of the main square in the historic centre of Turin and is hard to miss. A palace was originally built here in the 16th century but the main building that you see now is from the 17th century.
As you go through the palace, you’ll be able to see how lavishly-decorated each of the rooms is. Most walls are either painted, wall-papered, or hung with paintings. There are huge chandeliers throughout and displays of armour and swords.
From the vast marble entranceway and through to the gardens at the rear, everything here is done to impress – and it works!
I would suggest starting your visit to Turin here at the Palazzo Reale so you have something to compare all the other palaces to. Make sure you also go into the adjacent Chapel of the Holy Shroud, which was built to house the Shroud of Turin.
Also on the main square is the Palazzo Madama. It appears to sit in the centre and, from certain angles, looks like a castle. This is no coincidence because the building has had a long history.
The site was originally a gate for a Roman wall in the first century BC. Later it was turned into a defensive castle and then, in the 1600s, it became a lavish royal residence. When you visit, you can see remnants of each of these stages.
The palace has a very impressive art gallery on the ground floor, which has a collection of pieces from various stages of history. On the lower floor, you’ll find some exhibitions about the ancient history of the building. On the upper floor, there are the beautifully-decorated rooms that you expect from a Savoy residence.
The Palazzo Carignano is a fascinating building that is definitely worthy of a visit. It was built in 1679 as a residence for the Prince of Carignano (hence the name). These days, it is used to house the Museum of the Risorgimento.
The ‘Risorgimento’ means unification. This is the largest exhibition in the country that tells the story of the unification of Italy in the 19th century and the history that led to that point (and what came after). I think it’s actually really interesting and I would suggest taking some time to look at the displays – although there’s a lot to see so you’ll need to skip quite a few sections.
Of course, you’ll be able to see the opulent architecture and decoration of the palace. Of particular note is the Subalpine Chamber of Deputies that was used for legislative debates.
Castello del Valentino
A short walk south of the historic centre, to a lovely park along the river, will bring you to the Castello del Valentino, another of the Savoy residences in Turin.
There was once an ancient castle on this site but what you can see today is from the 1600s and was built for as a residence for a princess. It is not as large as the other palaces and has a horseshoe shape that makes it seem much open.
The building is used these days as the Architecture Faculty of the Polytechnic University of Turin. For this reason, it’s not open to the public. However, you can go through the gate at the road and look at the exterior of the building from the main courtyard.
I mentioned earlier that there are two different sightseeing cards that you can buy that will save you money if you’re planning to visit the palaces. I would definitely recommend buying one (and if you get it in advance online, that will save you some time during busy periods).
If you are mainly interested in the Royal Savoy Sites and you’re planning to see some of the lodges in the countryside, then I would recommend getting the Royal Card. As well as free entrance to all of the public sites, you will get access to some of the special events and tours that are offered.
If you are going to mainly spend your time in Turin and you’ll also want to see other museums and sites in the city, then I would suggest getting the Torino+Piemonte Card. This is what I did and I was really impressed with what else was included with the card (I recommend the Egyptian Museum, the National Museum of Cinema, and the National Automobile Museum).