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Official Web site: Palazzo Barolo
Photo by Lilia Bianco (showing vintage clothing at Palazzo Barolo)

Palazzo Barolo is a historic building located in the center of Turin, on Via delle Orfane. Initially, it was the residence of the Provana di Druento family, and later it passed to the Marchesi Falletti di Barolo until the extinction of the lineage. Today, the palace is managed by the Opera Pia di Barolo association and is used for exhibitions and events.

The palace was renovated starting in 1692 by the architect Gian Francesco Baroncelli on behalf of the Provana family. In 1727, the Faletti family commissioned Benedetto Alfieri to modify it in Rococo style. The interior is characterized by rich decorations, frescoed vaults, and oil paintings. Alfieri’s remarkable renovation included the Mozart Hall, Hall of Mirrors, and Chinese Salon. Of particular interest are Silvio Pellico’s room and the 19th-century apartment of the Marchesi. The entire palace underwent restoration in 2012.

However, the palace is famous for the events that occurred within its walls during the ownership of these two families.

As mentioned, the palace was renovated in 1692 on behalf of its then-owner, Giacinto Antonio Ottavio di Provana, Lord of Druento. The family was extremely wealthy, possessing one of the largest estates in the duchy and enjoying significant influence at court. Giacinto’s daughter, Elena Matilde, was the sole heir to this immense fortune. She was compelled by her father to marry a distant cousin, Gerolamo Gabriele Falleti di Barolo, in 1695. The wedding was attended by the entire nobility, and for the occasion, the bride borrowed a pearl necklace from Duchess Savoy Anna d’Orleans.

Palazzo Barolo
Interior of Palazzo Barolo

The tragedy of Palazzo Barolo

During the wedding festivities, tragedy struck when the central staircase of the palace suddenly collapsed. Fortunately, there were no casualties, but the pearl necklace was lost. It was later found amidst the rubble the following day. This event shook society at the time, and the collapse was interpreted as an ill omen for the marriage. In reality, the union was a happy one, and the couple went on to have three children. However, Giacinto di Provana was unable to fulfill the promised dowry to the Faletti di Barolo family. Most likely, his gambling habit had depleted his wealth.

He then summoned his daughter back to the palace with the intention of separating her from her husband and legally dissolving the marriage. Trapped within the palace and suffering from severe depression, Elena Matilde tragically took her own life by jumping from a second-floor window on February 24, 1701. Upon her death, Giacinto di Provana bequeathed everything he had to the Congregation of Christian Doctrine, sparking a legal battle with the Faletti di Barolo family, who claimed inheritance rights. Thus, from Palazzo Provana to Palazzo Barolo, the dispute finally concluded in 1727 when Ottavio Falletti di Barolo gained possession of the entire estate. As a consequence of these events, the building had earned a reputation as a cursed palace.

Palazzo Barolo
Interior of Palazzo Barolo

From Palazzo Provana to Palazzo Barolo

The dispute came to an end in 1727 when Ottavio Falletti di Barolo took possession of the entire estate.

Obviously these events, the building had earned a reputation as a cursed palace. It was rumored to be haunted by the ghost of Elena Matilde.

However, Ottavio was undeterred. He ordered the commencement of renovations, entrusting the task to Benedetto Alfieri. Over the subsequent years, the Falletti di Barolo family expanded their holdings, acquiring additional estates and wisely investing their resources, amassing immense wealth. Some even claimed that only the Duke of Savoy was wealthier than the Barolo family.

This legacy would later be inherited by Ottavio’s great-grandson: Tancredi Falletti di Barolo, born in 1782. During a visit to Paris, Tancredi met Juliette Colbert at court, and they married. Upon their relocation to Turin, she became known as Giulia di Barolo. Unfortunately, the couple discovered they could not have children. They decided jointly to “adopt” the poor of Turin, leaving a lasting philanthropic legacy.

Giulia di Barolo

Marchesa Giulia di Barolo swiftly became one of the most influential personalities in the city. She hosted cultural salons at the palace, engaging with nobility, politicians, and intellectuals. Her primary focus, however, was on improving the condition of women. Giulia dedicated herself to assisting young mothers, orphans, and prostitutes.

Palazzo Barolo
Portrait of Giulia di Barolo

She founded the Congregation of the Sisters of Saint Anne. In 1821, she opened a school for impoverished girls in Borgo Dora. In 1823, she established an institute for unwed mothers. The following year, she inaugurated an infant asylum at Palazzo Barolo, specifically for the children of laborers (the first in Italy). In 1833, she founded a monastery for underage prostitutes and actively engaged with incarcerated women, presenting a reform project that was discussed and approved by the detainees themselves. Giulia even served as the director of the women’s prison. During the cholera epidemic in 1835, she and her husband, Tancredi, personally cared for the sick.

A philanthropic legacy

After Tancredi fell ill during the epidemic, Giulia assumed full administration responsibilities. In 1845, she inaugurated a hospital for disabled girls. In 1847, she established a vocational school for the daughters of laborers. And in 1857, she opened a school for weaving and embroidery.

Between 1850 and 1855, Giulia found time to improve the cultivation of Nebbiolo grapes on her estates, enhancing the renowned Barolo wine. In 1863, she initiated the construction of the Church of Santa Giulia, laying the foundation stone. Giulia di Barolo was laid to rest in this church the following year. She bequeathed her entire fortune for the construction of the Opera Pia Barolo.

On January 21, 1991, the beatification process for Giulia di Barolo began, and on May 5, 2015, Pope Francesco declared her Venerable. Tancredi Falletti di Barolo also received the same honor in 2018.