While Florence is often associated with Renaissance and Antiquity, Turin is a much more historical city, with much more to offer the visitor. Other Italian cities certainly did have their own noble dynasties, yet these rarely reigned as kings or queens over smaller city-states or even as emperors, until the country was fully consolidated as a nation. The city that lies in the shadow of the Alps is one that is steeped in history from the very first day it was founded by the Romans to the present day.
Turin was ruled for many centuries by the most famous prince in Italian history, the great Florentine monarch, Charles IV. Born in Venice, Turin was destined for greatness as the boyhood Prince of Naples was said to be so skilled as an artist that he was rumored to have created his own painting after studying the masterpieces of the famed artist, Leonardo da Vinci. Some accounts say that Charles IV was so enamored by the Mona Lisa that he brought the painting back from Italy and had it done in the Vatican as a homage to the Medici family, which had founded the city. The Medici family had been one of the most powerful families in Italy during the Renaissance era and they were responsible for the rebuilding of several of the most important palaces of Europe. This famous artwork was also used as a sign of friendship and alliance between the two countries during the 18th Century.
Charles IV was not only a talented artist, he was also highly respected as a military leader and he built the fortress at Monza where he used it to train his troops. It was here that he met and married the young princess, Elisabeth of Austria-Esteem, whom he remained married to for the next 27 years until his death in 1847. Charles had spent much of his fortune in order to build this massive palace and it was completed using local laborers who were paid a meager wage. In addition to the palace, it included several other buildings such as a zoo, a granary, and a prison. Today, the fortress and palaces are a major tourist attraction and a great visit for anyone interested in Italian art and culture.
Another famous historic site in Turin is the Spanish Steps. While they are very impressive in all areas of the city center, visitors who travel to the area are particularly awed by the imposing size and architecture of the Spanish Steps. They are only one of several spectacular landmarks found in the city center of Turin and are a great place for a guided tour of the sights. There is also the St. Croce di Piazza del Popolo which was built in the twelfth century on the foundations of a church. This beautiful structure still stands today and is open to the public.
One of the most famous architectural wonders of the modern era is the Duomo, or The Royal Palace, which was designed by Renaissance master sculptor Piero da Cortona and is considered one of the best examples of Italian Renaissance architecture. For those who would like a more comprehensive museum experience, the Museo Civico in Turin features several fine collections of ancient and medieval art, while the Piazza Castello is one of the most important squares in the city. The Piazza del Popolo, or Royal Street, hosts many shops and restaurants that can be explored with a range of great cafes, bars, and restaurants located along the street.
There are several other wonderful places to visit in and around the city of Turin and some of them have been designated as World Heritage Sites by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. These include the Piazza Castello, the Piazza San Marco, and the Piazza Olimpico. All of these sites contain important examples of Italian art, architecture, and history and offer a glimpse into what Italian leaders thought about when they were designing the city. Some of the buildings in the squares that are situated near the Piazza Castello and the Piazza San Marco are over one hundred years old, which makes them exceptional in terms of their age and design. Other examples of well-designed buildings include the Duomo, the Santa Maria Novella, and the Basilica di San Miniato. Today, all of these buildings have been restored to their original appearance, which makes them some of the most popular attractions in all of Italy.