Turin has always been the least well-known of Italy's great cities. Paradoxically, the very symbols for which it is renowned - the House of Savoy and FIAT - have ended up obscuring and effacing the identity of the city itself. But there is much more to Turin than these famous emblems, as this book makes clear. It recounts the city's complex, eventful history, stretching back more than twenty centuries, in the light of the most up-to-date historical and archaeological research.
In a clear, easy-to-read style, the two authors trace the surprising twists and turns in the story of how this town, at first relatively insignificant, was destined from Antiquity onwards to become the prize in constant, ever-changing struggles for power. The strategic location of Augusta Taurinorum, the original Roman township that became Turin, determined its future importance as the focal point of the region at the foot of the western Alps. As the Roman empire declined, Turin became the seat of a bishopric, then the capital of a duchy under the Lombards, then the center of a frontier province under Charlemagne and his successors, until it finally constituted itself as a small independent city-state, ruled by its own urban aristocracy. Throughout this period Turin always remained less conspicuous, less significant than other Italian cities, yet it was constantly renewing and reinventing itself in new political guises.
In the later sixteenth century Turin's destiny changed decisively, when the political ambitions of the House of Savoy, hitherto oriented westwards, shifted to the eastern side of the Alps. The dynasty left its former capital at Chambéry and made Turin the new center of its domains. Under its Savoyard rulers during the Old Regime Turin emerged from obscurity, and blossomed into an elegant capital city. It impressed travelers on the Grand Tour, and survived the harsh trials of sieges and military defeats. These conflicts culminated in the French occupation at the end of the eighteenth century, which led to a profound revolutionary upheaval, soon to be followed however by the heavy-handed restoration of the Savoyard monarchy.
In the nineteenth century the House of Savoy took the lead in unifying Italy, and abandoned - or «betrayed» - Turin, transferring their capital to Rome. The departure of the ruling dynasty triggered an economic depression and a crisis of identity, which Turin surmounted, as it had so many times in the past, by reinventing itself in a new and unexpected way. The elegant old capital city of kings and courtiers, with its royal manufactures, turned itself into the most advanced industrial metropolis in Italy, with a vigorous working class and trade union movement. This latest phase in Turin's continuing cycle of transformations, largely forced upon it by external circumstances, is now drawing to a close. The city must start to write a fresh chapter in its history.
Failing to notice Turin is all too easy, for it is an unobtrusive city, but with the help of this book you will no longer fail to notice it, or to appreciate its eventful history and its enduring significance.