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  • TURIN'S HISTORY
    as portrayed by its commemorative plaques

    Part 4 of 5: The 19th Century
    Continued from part 3

    Yet again it was up to the intellectuals of the period to express, in a variety of ways, the discontents of Piedmontese society the political and cultural effects of the restoration. Scholars and scientists of the time like Giovanni Plana, Amedeo Avogadro, Amedeo Peyron , each in his own field, took a keen interest in contemporary politics and the social discontent that was to lead the unsuccessful uprising of 1821.

    One victim of the repression was Silvio Pellico whose long years in Spielberg prison transformed him from the enthusiastically liberal contributor to the 'Conciliatore' news sheet to the introverted writer of Prison Diaries in his Via Barbaroux home.

    The long hoped-for demand for the modernisation of Piedmont's political, judicial and economic system was supported by Carlo Alberto. Once a new constitution was granted in 1848 statesmen like Federico Sclopis, luigi Des Ambrois and Ottavio Thaon di Revel helped to draft the new political and institutional arrangements.

    Piedmont also enjoyed economic growth thanks to the policies of Cavour: the expanding manufacturing system increasingly turned to factory-based industry and capitalist organisation. The promotion of private enterprise also led landowners to engage in an orgy of speculative building works that was only controlled by the imposition of customs boundaries in 1853.

    As the previous centuries, care for the needs of the poor and the sick was left to the charitable initiative of individuals or the Church. The Piccola Casa della Divina Provvidenza, established by Giuseppe Cottolengo in 1813, still retains today its original philanthropic aims and still offers disinterested help to the disadvantaged in accordance with the inspiration of its founder. In terms of culture the first half of the 19th century was notable for its interest in the arts. Today we remember the Torinese sculptor Carlo arocchetti as creator of the equestrian statue known has the "Caval 'd Brons", has beloved a symbol of the city has the Mole Antonelliana. Then there was Antonio Fontanesi, one of Piedmont's greatest 19th century painters, who created an outstanding course in landscape painting at the Accademia Albertina.

    The first war of Independence in 1848 brought these cultural and artistic ferment to a temporary halt and his echoed in the anthem by Mameli which was memorably set to music by Novaro who is commemorated on the plaque to be seen ain via XX Settembre.

    Another famous name from this period of war is that of General Alessandro la Marmora, creator of the Bersaglieri Regiment. After the defeat at Novara and the peace treaty with Austria in 1850, Turin began to play a leading role in Italy's cultural and political life, an eminence that culminated in 1861 when Turin became the capital of the newly proclaimed United Italy. The new nation's industrial and commercial requirements made it essential to update the distribution network for raw materials and finished goods.

    The solution was the railway system, which accelerated both economic growth and the move to the cities. In Turin the main railway station is at Porta Nuova in the heart of the city, a classic example of modern architecture that successfully blends form and function. The architecture of the period was oriented towards experimentation with new materials like glass and iron that allowed for the boldest structural innovations. Alessandro Antonelli, who combined an engineer's technical expertise with an architect's imagination, took up the challenge of the new tendencies and proved, with his Mole Antonelliana, that is was possible to use a traditional masonry structure to create buildings of a highly original nature.

    During this period there were scientific discoveries and developments, especially in the pharmaceutical field, which also contributed significantly to industrial development. Together with Nobel, Ascagno Sobrero invented nitro-glycerine, never dreaming that it would ever be used in war. Indeed the plaque records his achievements in medicine.

    During this particular phase in Piedmont's history, in which Turin's brief period as the new nation's capital is documented by a flourish of plaques commemorating the leading lights of Italy's Risorgimento, the birth of Vittorio Emanuele II is marked by the tablet on the facade of Palazzo Carignano, as are the homes of Court Camillo Benso di Cavour and Massimo D'Azeglio and the foundation of the Carabinieri Regiment. The transfer of the capital to Florence caused at temporary halt in the city's socio-economic, political and cultural development. It was not until the 1880s that the opening of its first great foundries, textile and steel factories triggered a revival and an upsurge in new building. This, in fact, was Turin's first real industrial boom in variety of fields. The plaques record figures as diverse as Galileo Ferraris, the quintessential industrial scientist, and the 'Preserve King' Francesco Cirio who is commemorated by a bizarre liberty style tablet and who introduced the farmers of Italy to 'new trades, new directions, new markets'.

    Among educators and especially writers for children we find people who epitomise the Turin tradition such as Edmondo De Amicis and Emilio Salgari. The plaque on the house where the latter lived in 'heart-rending poverty' depicts one of the sailing ships that populate his innumerable tales of adventure.

    One notable who spent a short but intense period in Turin in 1888/89 was Friedrich Nietzsche in one of whose letters we find 'aristocratic calm' and 'a standardised taste that even governs colour' the scribed as the characteristic features of our city. With the arrival of the twentieth century it becomes increasingly difficult to read story of the changing city through its commemorative plaques. This reflects a transformation in mentality as events come to be seen as mere steps towards future growth. Such memorials, moreover, likely to represent a warning not to repeat history, evoking as they do to World Wars, Fascism and the martyrs of Italy's liberation.

    Part 1: Emperor Augustus to the Savoy Government
    Part 2: Planning & Architectural Projects
    Part 3: The 18th Century
    Part 5: The 20th Century


    Additional Resources:
    Photos of Turin
    Shroud of Turin
    Turin City Guide
    Torino Clothing & Novelties

    "Courtesy of the Comune di Torino. Reprinted with permission."

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