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Official Web site: Il castello del Valentino
Photos by Lucia Ranieri

The Castello del Valentino, located within the eponymous park on the banks of the Po River, was a Savoy residence for a long time. Passed to public ownership in 1850, since 1997 it has been part of UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites.

The name Valentino is quite uncertain. Documents from 1275 mention Vallantinum, indicating a small valley parallel to the Po where a stream flowed. Other sources trace the name back to Saint Valentine, whose relics were apparently kept in a small local church. It also seems that the tradition of celebrating Valentine’s Day originates from here. Every year, on February 14th, nobility would gather for a gallant celebration where each woman would call her partner Valentino.

History

The first certain information about a building in this area dates back to the mid-1500s. From historical documents, we know that in 1564, Emanuele Filiberto purchased a villa that had belonged to the Birago family.

Castello del Valentino
Castello del Valentino

The following year, the sovereign sold it to the ducal treasurer Giovanni De Brosses to finance the construction of the Citadel. The building returned to Savoy ownership in 1570 when Emanuele Filiberto repurchased it. He entrusted Andrea Palladio with its first expansion, completed in 1578. In 1580, Carlo Emanuele I, the successor to Emanuele Filiberto, transferred ownership to Filippo I d’Este.

Expansions

However, the most interesting part of the history of Valentino Castle begins in 1619. In that year, the castle was granted to Maria Cristina of France as a wedding gift from Vittorio Amedeo I.

After becoming a widow and assuming the regency of the duchy, she had the building renovated by Carlo and Amedeo di Castellamonte, who completed the work in 1621.

Maria Cristina loved spending a lot of time at Valentino Castle. It became the setting for her clandestine meetings with her lover, Filippo d’Agliè. Away from prying eyes, she easily crossed the river to meet him on the slopes of Monte dei Cappuccini.

Po river view

In 1645, she expanded the palace by adding three front pavilions connected by porticoes. The completion of the work in 1660 gave the building its current form with steeply sloping roofs.

The city’s expansion gradually incorporated Valentino Castle into the urban context of Turin.

During the Napoleonic period in the early 1800s, like many other palaces, the castle was repurposed for military use. It became the headquarters for the Artillery and Cavalry corps, and the first Veterinary school was opened. The return of the Savoy family with the Restoration of 1814 did not alter its use.

Castello del Valentino today

In 1850, the Demanio (public domain) became the owner of the castle, maintaining its military purpose for some time. In 1857, architects Domenico Ferri and Luigi Tonta adapted the structure to host the VI National Exhibition of Industrial Products.

Castello del Valentino
Entrance

The Valentino Castle underwent further renovations in the 1860s. During this time, the park was also redeveloped.

In 1864, it became the seat of the Regio Museo Industriale (Royal Industrial Museum). Later, in 1880, it housed the Regia Scuola di Applicazione per ingegneri (Royal School of Application for Engineers). Finally, in 1906, these two institutions merged to form the Regio Politecnico di Torino (Royal Polytechnic University of Turin).

Today, the Valentino Castle hosts degree programs within the Department of Architecture.

Architecture

The architecture of the Valentino Castle shows strong French influences, as exemplified by the shape of the roof. Resulting from numerous renovations, expansions, and modifications, it has a symmetrical U-shaped design. At its center lies a spacious courtyard enclosed by an imposing gate. The main and oldest part of the castle faces the Po River and features exposed brickwork and a grand double staircase.

The ground-floor rooms are plastered without specific decorations. However, the noble floor is richly decorated during the seventeenth century by artists from Ticino entrepreneurial families.

Castello del Valentino
Castello del Valentino

Interior of Castello del Valentino

The interior of the Valentino Castle features a horseshoe shape with four rectangular towers, a wide inner court with a marble pavement, and ceilings in French style. Additionally, the façade proudly displays the coat of arms of the House of Savoy.

The Zodiac Room

It is also known as the Room of Planets, is located on the first floor of the Valentino Castle, facing the Po River. The frescoes on the vaulted ceiling depict allegories centered around the Po River and the passage of time. In the center of the vault, the Po River is represented, flanked by two cherubs symbolizing day and night, while Time crowns the river. Among the various frescoes, you’ll find the depiction of Phaeton’s fall. Symbolic representations of Aurora, the Sun, Iris, and Night are positioned at the four cardinal points. In the lower part of the room, the twelve zodiac signs are displayed. The connection between the vault and the walls was created during the 1858 Exhibition.

The Valentine’s Room

This room was likely the first to be created during the happy period of marriage between Maria Cristina and Vittorio Amedeo I. In the foreground, Maria Cristina of France is depicted as Flora, gathering and distributing flowers. The room also contains a medal display, as a tribute to the Regia Scuola di Applicazione per gli Ingegneri (Royal School of Application for Engineers).

The Rose Room

Rose Room

This room takes its name from the title of the King of Cyprus, whose rose is the heraldic symbol acquired by Vittorio Amedeo I in 1632. During the 1858 renovations, busts of Emanuele Filiberto, Margherita di Valois, and Maria Giovanna Battista were installed above the doors.

The Flower Cabinet

The Flower Cabinet (Gabinetto dei Fiori) is characterized by the absence of frescoes and rich decorations in gilded stucco. Vegetal motifs and various flowers adorn all the walls. The decoration is complemented by eight mirrors, repositioned according to documents from 1644 during the renovations in the twentieth century. The original flooring has also been restored.

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