We’ll come to the most random and unexpected of reunions. First, a little history geeking and a bit of breakfast.
This was the hostel breakfast. And there was a cappuccino coming. Table service, partial table service admittedly but that’s more than most hostels. €7
The staff were surprised that I didn’t book the B&B rate but I don’t always want a big breakfast every day but today is May Day and apparently quite a lot of places may be closed.
I was on Bologna for New Year once and a community brass band toured the streets looking for businesses that were open on the 1st January. Once located, they stopped and performed a few songs as a thankyou. It was brilliant.
So, knowing it was May Day, I headed off for a walk along the Po to Stazione Sassi where I would catch the funicular up to the Basilica di Superga.
The Basilica was built from 1717 to 1731 for Victor Amadeus II, Duke of Savoy, (yep, the one who inspired the invention of the breadsticks) and designed by Filippo Juvarra, at the top of the hill of Superga. This fulfilled a vow the duke (and future King of Sardinia) had made during the Battle of Turin, after defeating the besieging French army in the War of the Spanish Succession. The Basilica is where the members of the House of Savoy were entombed.
The Stazione and the funicular line came about as a result of the Turin Grand Exposition in 1884 – an opportunity to show the world the city’s developments in science and technology. The inaugural journey was by invitation only for the great and the good (unsurprisingly) but it became a phenomenally popular route. There’s a small exhibition in the station about this and the fact there were initially two tram companies operating in the city in the 19th century, different vehicles and different lines. Eventually, because this was considered to be too complicated (Kuala Lumpur, take note) the running of the tram network was handed to one of the two companies, ATM.
The tram (costing €9 for an adult return ticket that you can buy at the station) crawls up, and through, the hillside. The brickwork tunnels temporarily shroud the most amazing views of the tree covered Superga and the views back to Turin are astonishing.
In 1706 Louis XIV invaded Northern Italy with Franco-Spanish army. The Piemontese militias were not enjoying great success in defending Turin. The Duke of Savoy Victor Amadeus climbed to the top of the Superga Hill to survey the battle. There was a small church and he prayed for divine intervention. He swore that if successful, he’d build a basilica.
He was. The basilica was built. What happened to the Duke?
On 3 September 1730, he abdicated. In his later years he’d exhibited symptoms of depression, so retired from the royal court. (As well as being Duke of Savoy, he was the King of Sicilly but ended up having to swap this title to be King of Sardinia – Italy was more than several decades away from unification at this point). His son became King of Sardinia Charles Emanuel III. The new king had not been Dad’s favourite child (there were six kids with his wife, two with his longterm mistress who did a bunk after he became obsessive and who knows how many unacknowledged).
After some time spent at his residence in Chambéry, however, the former Duke started to interfere in his son’s government. Victor Amadeus reclaimed the throne in 1731, accusing his son of incompetence. This behaviour may or may not have been the result of a stroke and his second wife (married in 1730) was blamed for his bad behaviour. He established himself in Moncalieri, but Charles Emmanuel managed to have the former king arrested by the Crown Council, in order to prevent him from attacking Milan and probably causing an invasion of Piedmont. Victor Amadeus was then confined to the Castle of Rivoli, just outside Turin so that he could still see the Basilica. He died in October in 1732 after possibly his second stroke.
It’s not clear whether the the Duke of Savoy (and breadsticks) is indeed buried in the Basilica as he had wished. Signage at the Basilica indicates that this is so but his son was also reluctant to draw any further public attention to his Dad’s behaviour so may have buried him at the Convent of San Giuseppe di Carignano.
On the 4 May 1949, a Fiat G.212 of Avio Linee Italiane (Italian Airlines), carrying the entire Torino football team ( the Grande Torino), crashed into the retaining wall at the back of the Basilica of Superga. All thirty-one people on the flight died.
Investigations concluded that there had been a fault in the equipment and the pilot thought he was flying higher than he actually was. Visibility was poor and cross winds pushed the plane off course. It is thought that the pilot, (who likely believed that the Superga hill was off to his right), would have seen it suddenly emerge directly in front of him (flying at 110 mph), with visibility of 130 ft and been unable to react. The wreckage did not give any indication of an attempt to go around.
At the request of rival teams, Turin were proclaimed winners of the 1948–49 Season and opponents, as well as Turin, fielded their youth teams in the four remaining games. On the day of the funeral, half a million people took to the streets of Turin to pay their respects. In the following season, the other top Italian teams were asked to donate a player to the Turin team.] The shock of the crash was such that the following year, the Italian national team travelled to the 1950 FIFA World Cup in Brazil by ship.
The memorial to the Team is at the back of the Basilica. The crash is commemorated every year and there was a small group of people laying new scarves at there today.
Back to town and a prebooked (a must) ticket for the Mole Antonelliana. I’d booked the last ticket for 1.15pm entry to the museum.
The Mole Antonelliana is the “architectural landmark of the city of Turin” – you can see the spire for miles. It was initially conceived as a synagogue, before being bought by the Municipality of Turin and made into a monument to national unity.
Now… it’s one of the best museums I’ve ever been to. It’s a shrine to the movies. It offers a history of cinematography and technology – photos, equipment, sets and costumes. You can watch spaghetti westerns in a bar with Clint Eastwood, watch cartoons with Roger Rabbit and scare yourself with the costumes and special effects from horror movies. It’s FANTASTIC!!!!
(No Doctor Who though).
Oh, and you can ride the Great Glass Elevator through the spire to get a view acrosa Turin from the top.
The views are something else.
While I was waiting in the queue, I received a text message from my friend Nella. I met Nella and Simon in February 2020 when we were the only three people on a tour up the Stuart Highway from Alice Springs to Darwin. With tour guide Jack, we had had a great time and always planned to meet up once my trip was over and we were all back in Europe.
Then the Pandemic happened.
It has been over two years since we last saw each other.
Today, Nella spotted that I was blogging about Turin. She and Simon had just arrived in the city.
I received an email while I was queuing. Was I still in Turin and did I want to meet for a drink? I can’t tell you how stunned I was to receive this. It’s fortunate that the Mole requires visitors to wear a mask because I was just giggling away to myself about what an amazing coincidence this was.
When I came out of the Museum, there were Nella and Simon waving and smiling. The most unexpected and unplanned and absolutely incredible reunion.
We had been rubbish at keeping in touch. I had no idea about Nella and Simon’s plans. They knew nothing about mine. The timing and geography were just perfect.
At times like this, you just have to conclude that Fate was involved somehow.