Piedmont is located in Northern Italy between Emilia Romagna and Switzerland, and it is a territory that boasts a rich cultural heritage. The history of the region is strongly related to the Savoy, a noble family that brought popularity and prestige to this part of Italy throughout time.
The Savoy Residences, declared as UNESCO world heritage sites, stand out as a testimony to the solid presence of the monarchy. Since the Middle Ages, the monarchy characterized the facets of the region and its importance in the entire country.
The domination of the Savoy dynasty, which reigned in Italy until the establishment of the Republic in 1946, has been a fundamental instrument in the cultural development of the region.
Piedmont was also a homeland and preferred destination of many illustrious characters through the centuries, and a few contemporary personalities were born in the region.
The capital of the region is Turin, a place that evolved yet maintained its original charm of a city of culture and art. Today, many stroll on the streets of modern Turin, or sip a cup of coffee or eat delicious dishes in historic cafés that once drew remarkable literates, poets, and scientists.
The literature in Turin, and in Piedmont, is an important part of the local culture. Apart from many literates and authors famous the world over, the city now hosts one of the most important international book conventions, the Salone del Libro.
Apart from literature, the region is linked to many other sides of the culture, such as the architecture and the arts, cinema, and even the music.
While Turin is a vibrant and lively city, the other cities of the region preserve different rhythms and stronger bonds with the past. The medieval charm and traditions are still preserved in cities like Casale Monferrato, Alessandria and Asti.
These areas are characterized by endless vineyards, bountiful agriculture and beautiful weather throughout the seasons. The local traditions still thrive in these areas and attract thousands to folkloristic events, such as the Palio of Asti or the Carnival of Ivrea.
As a strongly religious region, Piedmont is visited by many pilgrims and believers from all over the world. Catholicism is the dominant religion, yet the region also boasts an important Hebraic community and some communities of the Protestant confession.
Piedmont is also the homeland of two of the most iconic Italian products that turned the world’s head, the historic FIAT 500 and the delicious Nutella, a popular hazelnut cream spread.
Piedmont’s Art and Architecture
Piedmont’s art and architecture have ancient roots and early medieval-period testimonies. The first examples of artistic and architectural development in the region are the barbarian necropolis of Testona, near Moncalieri, and a Baptistery in Novara, together with a few remains of the churches that were built or rebuilt in the Romanesque period.
The unique Romanesque-Lombardy style that characterizes the Piedmont region still lives in the impressive architecture of the church of San Michele in Oleggio and in the Cathedral of Ivrea, an example of the first local Romanesque basilica in Piedmont.
But the crown of Romanesque art and architecture in the region is the majestic abbey Sacra di San Michele. The most impressive part of the abbey is, without a doubt, the Presbytery and its entrance that is flanked by capitals and pillars sculpted with images of the signs of the zodiac and constellations.
The cathedrals of Casale Monferrato and the Abbey of Santa Maria of Vezzolano are other significant examples of the Romanesque style.
Due to a weak urban development, only a few urban centers in Piedmont show traces of the medieval age. The traces are majorly constituted by abbeys and castles that were eventually destroyed or altered.
Between the 12th and 13th centuries, the cities that knew some development were Novara, Asti, and Vercelli. Alessandria, one of the most important cities of the region, together with Turin, developed as boroughs at first, then were developed from an economic and cultural point of view later on.
Regarding the art of the period, a few bas-reliefs in the basilica of Sant’Andrea in Vercelli and in the abbey of Sant’Antonio in Ranverso are some of the most representative examples of sculpture, while both edifices are splendid examples of Piedmont’s Gothic architecture.
The painting and sculpting remained modest in the following centuries, yet numerous buildings show the local interpretation of the Gothic style, in particular, some churches characterized by high cusps and overlapping portals, such as the cathedral of San Giovanni in Saluzzo and the cathedrals of Cirié and Chivasso, and many other settlements. The cathedrals of Asti and Novara are beautiful, although the most representative examples in terms of both architecture and sculpture are the cathedrals of Chieri and Susa.
In these cathedrals, part of the Gothic influence can be seen in the carved wood elements, such as the crucifixes, icons and the choir stalls.
The 15th and 16th centuries are dominated by feudalism and its persistence in the region is evidenced by a large number of castles located in various centers with a dominant position. Particularly well-preserved are the castles of Canavese and Monferrato. From the same era, the ancient center of Saluzzo has remained essentially unchanged.
In the second part of the 16th century, the political and social situation hindered the emergence of a more modern art manifested almost everywhere throughout Piedmont. The Renaissance style started to emerge in the Vercelli area, and was influenced by Lombardy’s art, which resulted in a remarkable school of painting being opened.
Giovanni Martino Spanzotti, Defendente Ferrari, and Gaudenzio Ferrari’s works can be admired in many churches throughout Vercelli, Novara, Ivrea, and Turin. From all the artworks, one of the most representative frescoes can be found in the chapel of Our Lady of Loreto, while other splendid examples are present in the church of Madonna delle Grazie in Varallo.
Turin started to meet a period of great artistic flowering in the second half of the 16th century, when the Savoy established the capital of the region in this city. The school of Turin was influenced by French art, and the local artists developed a unique interpretation of the Renaissance that is well visible in the Palace of Valentino.
Baroque emerged in Piedmont in the 17th century, and the greatest architect of the time is unanimously considered to be Guarino Guarini, even he was not from Piedmont. Among the edifices projected by the architect, the Chapel of the Holy Shroud, which is annexed to the Cathedral of Turin, is perhaps the most famous. As it is easy to imagine, the chapel houses the famous shroud Jesus presumably wore after death.
Besides the chapel, other important works of the architect include the church of San Lorenzo and the Carignano Palace in Turin. Inspired by the art of Borromini, the palace is a very bold interpretation of Baroque motifs.
In the 17th century painting and sculpture didn’t thrive, yet one of the most important artists of the era, whose works beautify various churches throughout the region, is Tanzio da Varallo.
The beginning of the 18th century represented a turning point in the architecture of Piedmont, thanks to the arrival of Filippo Juvarra. His works still impress locals and tourists alike, and among the most important edifices is the Palazzo Madama in Turin, Stupinigi Lodge in Nichelino and Basilica Superga in Turin. All these edifices are characterized by a perfect synthesis of space with Baroque or classic motifs.
Other important architectural works of the 18th century are the bell tower of the Basilica of San Gaudenzio in Novara, and the cathedral of Carignano.
While painting and sculpture were still shadowed by architecture, other arts and crafts started to arise in Piedmont, such as the production of furniture, tapestries, embroidery, and majolica, arts that transform the baroque of Piedmont in a splendid example of taste and sensitivity of the time.
While architecture dominated the region until the 19th century, the era of sculpture soon took over, represented by many monuments of Carlo Marochetti. The painting school of the time is also noteworthy and characterized mainly by the reproduction of romantic landscapes.
Nevertheless, great architecture emerges again in the second half of the 19th century. The greatest architect of the time is, without a doubt, Alessandro Antonelli, whose iconic Mole Antonelliana dominates the landscape of Turin and hosts the National Museum of Cinema. Another important work of the architect is the dome of the Basilica of San Gaudenzio in Novara, another splendid example of verticality and technical ability.
The beginning of the 20th century in Piedmont is characterized by economic recovery and Liberty style. The affirmation of this style in Turin sets the basis of the Great Modern Art Exhibition inaugurated in 1902. The architecture of the time is also characterized by the imaginative structures of Raimondo D’Aronco who built the main pavilion of the Exhibition.
Leonardo Bistolfi, a sculptor and exponent of Italian symbolism, is responsible for the suggestive transformations carried out in the art, while one of the most representative painters of the era, Giuseppe Pellizza da Volpedo, impresses with the Fourth State. The painting, now exhibited in the Gallery of Modern Art in Milan, is the result of a long elaboration in which the painter adapted the French post-impressionism to a new ethical content in the context of a social commitment characteristic of the Turin Socialist intellectuals.
The Liberty style had a relatively short life in Piedmont and knew its fall by the first decade of the 20th century. Piedmont is an industrial region, and the demands of industrial production were hardly compatible with the sumptuousness of the Liberty style.
From the second decade of the 20th century onwards, the architectural style of the region was dominated by industrial buildings and factories. Among the most representative examples is the FIAT building designed in 1919 by Giacomo Mattè-Trucco.
The Lingotto plant is particularly interesting, characterized by a structure in reinforced concrete with multiple planes connected by a helix ramp that leads to the roof. The edifice was reinvented in 1983 by architect Renzo Piano who added to Lingotto new spaces, such as offices, auditoriums, and more.
The most emblematic structure created by Renzo Piano in the reinvention of Lingotto is Bolla, a suspended meeting room that inspired the architect in some of his future works.
At the beginning of the 21st century, with the occasion of the 2006 Winter Olympics hosted by Turin, the regional architectural style was reinvented once more, and a number of facilities emerged, including the Olympic Village.
Science in Piedmont
Although modest from a science perspective, the Piedmont region boasts a few important names and was the birthplace of a number of people who actually made a difference in Italy and in the world.
One of these people is Joseph Louis Lagrange, unanimously considered one of the brightest mathematicians of the 18th century. Lagrange was born in Turin in 1736 and at the age of fourteen joined the University of Turin to undertake legal studies. His passion for geometry and experimental physics prevailed and the future genius of mathematics abandoned the legal studies to dedicate himself to the study of advanced mathematics.
Although he published his first scientific work exclusively in Italian, his vision brought him the attention of the International Scientific Community, and King Charles Emanuel III nominates him the Substitute of the Master of Mathematics despite his young age.
In 1766 Lagrange became the president of the Academy of Sciences in Berlin and continued his work that eventually led to the creation of the decimal metric system, which represents the basis of today’s International System.
To pay tribute to Lagrange’s great mind, the city of Turin commissioned a sculpture that was executed by Giovanni Albertoni. The sculpture dominates the center of Lagrange square.
Another important scientific figure of Piedmont is Rita Levi Montalcini, born in Turin in 1909. Montalcini was awarded the Nobel Prize for medicine in 1986, after years dedicated to the study of neurosciences.
She began her medical studies at the age of 20, and although she determined to pursue an academic career as an assistant in neurobiology and psychiatry, the racial laws that were emanating from the fascist regime in Italy blocked her.
Nevertheless, her passion for science pushed Montalcini to continue her research in an improvised home lab until an opportunity arose for her in Saint Louis, Missouri, USA.
The United States of America became the second home to Montalcini and she continues her research on the NFG molecule, a protein that plays an essential role in the differentiation of the various nerve cells.
Literature in Piedmont
Besides science, literature played an important role in Piedmont. One of the greatest names of the literature of the region is Umberto Eco, a critic, essayist, and writer famous all over the world. Eco was born in Alessandria in 1932 and graduated the University of Turin in 1954 with a thesis on the aesthetic thought of Tommaso Aquino.
His career started at a local TV agency where he collaborated with a few broadcasts while in parallel he began writing his first novels.
In 1980 Umberto Eco publishes The Name of the Rose, a novel that conquered the hearts of literary critics and readers all over the world. The novel, inspired by some of the most iconic landmarks of Piedmont, such as the Sacra of San Michele, became the inspiration for a splendid cinematic transposition featuring Sean Connery as one of the actors.
Besides Umberto Eco, Piedmont also boasts a few other important writers, such as Gianni Rodari, an author of novels and stories for children, Primo Levi, Cesare Pavese and Vittorio Alfieri.
A literary tour in the region leads to the discovery of all the places that inspired these great wordsmiths and is a beautiful way of discovering an alternative Piedmont, away from the masses.
Music in Piedmont
From a musical point of view, Piedmont is dominated by two distinctive composers and players, Paolo Conti and Ludovico Einaudi.
Paolo Conti was born in Asti in 1937 and as a teenager begins to cultivate his passion for the classic American jazz. He begins writing songs inspired by cinema, literature, and life, while in parallel he pursues a career as a solicitor.
In the 60s some of his creations were made famous by a series of important Italian musicians such as Adriano Celentano and Patty Bravo, while Conti launches his first jazz album in 1974. Since then, he influenced styles and impressed critics and enthusiasts with his timeless jazz songs.
Ludovico Einaudi, on the other hand, is an important composer and piano player who preserved in his musical expression an echo of the classical reality influenced by pop, jazz, and rock music. Because of his unique and distinctive style, Einaudi’s music is appreciated all over the world.
Movies and Cinema In Piedmont
Piedmont, and above all Turin, is also the birthplace of the Italian cinema. Since the beginning of the 20th century, the city played an important role in the film culture both in production and in the promotion of various Italian movies.
In fact, after the invention of the cinema in 1896, Turin was one of the first cities where the film industry started to develop, at first with silent movies, then with other styles of cinema.
One of the most iconic movies from the beginnings of cinema, Cabiria registered in 1914 by Giovanni Pastore, and it still represents a model of the evolution of cinema.
To discover the history of Turin and the evolution of cinema, visit the National Museum of Cinema, inaugurated in 1941. Today, the museum is located among the impressive scenery of Mole Antonelliana, and here you will be able to find out more about the history of cinema, its various genres, and the most famous movies and protagonists.
The museum is structured on four levels which are divided into the “archeology of cinema.” Exhibits include some pre-cinematic optic machines, magical lanterns, as well as ancient and modern cinematographic equipment. Among the most impressive objects in the collection are some decorations of the first Italian cinema hall seats.
The second level is dedicated to the machines and various phases of filmmaking, while the third level hosts a gallery.
The fourth level is probably the most impressive and it is unanimously considered the heart of the museum. The level is organized as a temple hall that offers access to ten different halls, each of them dedicated to a different cinematic genre.
The center of the edifice is equipped with comfortable chaise lounges where you can sit and watch two silent movies and a short brief of the history of Italian cinema. The museum also has a constantly expanding library.
A visit to the Mole Antonelliana also features a splendid panorama over the city and its surroundings.
The museum also hosts various events dedicated to cinema and film, including the Torino Film Festival, an event dedicated exclusively to Italian cinema.