Last fall I was living in Milan. When a friend told me he was coming to Turin and asked me to meet him there, I was left at a bit of a loss as to what there actually was to do in Turin. Turns out, a lot!
When I began researching it online, three things in particular kept popping up: 1) the Mole Antonelliana, 2) the National Museum of Cinema and 3) the Egyptian Museum of Torino, which had recently been remodelled. It took me a while to understand that the National Museum of Cinema is actually housed within the Mole Antonelliana!
The Mole Antonelliana – or simply “Mole”, for short – has become the architectural symbol of Turin and a celebration of Italian unity. It’s on the back of the Italian 2 cent Euro coins and was the inspiration for the official emblem of the 2006 Winter Olympics, held in Turin.
The Mole, though, was originally designed as a Jewish synagogue. In 1863, during the brief four years in which Turin was the capital of a newly unified Italy (1861-1864), Turin’s Jewish community wanted to build a structure that would be the jewel of the new capital city. They brought in Antonio Antonelli of Novara, a renowned architect, with a budget of 250,000 lira.
Over the next decade, however, the budget almost tripled as Antonio’s plan for the building became taller and more grand. Eventually, the Jewish community decided to pull out of the project, building an impressive Moorish Revival synagogue instead, and the city took over construction of the Mole. Construction was finally completed in 1889 under the supervision of Costanzo Antonelli, Antonio’s son (Antonio had unfortunately died in 1888, just a year before his legacy was finished). At that time, it was the tallest unsupported masonry structure in the world, rising 167 meters.
In 1961, in celebration of the 100-year anniversary of the unification of Italy, a glass elevator was installed, raising guests 85 meters in the air through the very center of the dome to a panoramic terrace. It’s quite a rush! The journey takes only 59 seconds and there are no floors or stops between the ground and the top of the dome, just one fast ride with the entire interior of the building laid out beneath you. (You also have the option of buying a ticket to climb stairs up to the panoramic terrace, but the combined ticket for the Mole and the National Museum of Cinema is only available for the elevator, not the stairs). Once you’ve arrived at the top, the city of Turin and the surrounding hills are laid out before you on all sides. On a clear day, you can appreciate the Alps in the (not so distant) distance.
When we finally made the trip back down in the glass elevator (the woman next to me had to hide her eyes), we explored the National Museum of Cinema, which was surprisingly really freakin’ cool.
But that’s another post…