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Official web site: Palazzo Madama
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Palazzo Madama, located in the heart of Piazza Castello, is probably the oldest building in the city. The palaxe stands on the site of the ancient Porta Pretoria (or Porta Decumana), which provided access to the city from the Po River side during Roman times.

The gate was therefore a strategic point for accessing the river. For this reason, it had to be defended and protected with special care. While maintaining its primary purpose of access, it was reinforced and took on the form of a fortified gate 

From gate to castle

In the 14th century, the Savoy-Acaja family gained full control of the city with Filippo I, Prince of Savoy, and Lord of Acaja. He expanded the existing gate, transforming it into a medieval castle from which the family wielded its power. In the following century, Lodovico d’Acaja modified the structure, giving it a square shape with a courtyard and portico, and adding four defensive towers. Essentially, he transformed it into a castle.

Palazzo Madama

After the Acaja lineage became extinct, the castle became the property of the Savoy family. However, Turin was on the outskirts of the Savoy duchy, with its capital located in Chambéry. Consequently, the castle had limited uses, primarily serving as accommodation for the court during visits to Turin or for illustrious passing guests. For instance, in 1494, Charles VII of France stayed there during his journey to Naples.

When the capital shifted to Turin, the castle briefly housed Emanuele Filiberto before he settled in the Royal Palace. Later, it became a residence for guests of the Savoy.

From castle to Palazzo Madama

In 1637, Maria Cristina of France, regent for the young Charles Emmanuel II, chose it as her residence. To escape court intrigues, Maria Cristina made it her home and command center during the civil war.

She commissioned some interior modernization work and added a covering for the courtyard.

In the second half of the 1600s, one of the palace towers was converted into a prison for “illustrious figures.” Among them was Senator Sillano, accused of attempting to take the Duke’s life. He had the peculiar privilege of receiving meals cooked at his home and served in prison by his butler.

Palazzo Madama
Staicase of Palazzo Madama

In the early 1700s, the castle was inhabited by Maria Giovanna Battista, regent for Vittorio Amedeo II. It was the presence of the two Royal Madams that transformed its name into Palazzo Madama.

The two Royal Madams were responsible for modifying the building to its current appearance. In 1686, the drawbridge was removed, and in 1721, Filippo Juvarra completed the facade with a sumptuous internal staircase. Juvarra’s original plan included a complete renovation of the entire palace, but it was never fully realized.

From Palazzo Madama to Senate

Upon the Savoy family’s return to Piedmont after the Napoleonic period, the palace became the headquarters of the military command. In 1822, it was repurposed as an astronomical observatory. Giovanni Plana installed a dome for observations, which would later be moved to the hill at the beginning of the new century.

On May 8, 1848, the Subalpine Senate took its seat at Palazzo Madama. The last session was held on December 9, 1864. Later, the capital was moved to Florence.

Palazzo Madama
Palazzo Madama

On May 6, 1949, after the Superga tragedy involving the Grande Torino football team, Palazzo Madama was chosen as the location to display the deceased players’ remains.

In 1961, Queen Elizabeth II stayed at Palazzo Madama during her visit to Turin for the centenary of Italian unification.

Today, it houses the Civic Museum of Ancient Art, exhibiting sculptures, artworks, and one of the world’s most important collections of porcelain.

Palazzo Madama demolition

Palazzo Madama faced the risk of complete demolition on at least two occasions.

The first instance occurred during the Napoleonic rule, amidst revolutionary fervor. French generals planned to tear down Palazzo Madama to create a spacious central square in the city. However, the palace was saved thanks to Napoleon’s direct intervention, as he prohibited its destruction.

The second proposal for demolition came from Alessandro Antonelli. The architect was renowned for his daring and challenging projects, such as the Mole Antonelliana and Casa Scaccabarozzi (also known as the “Fetta di Polenta”). Antonelli put forth a plan called “Piazza Pulita,” which involved removing Palazzo Madama. He believed that the palace, situated in the middle of the square, hindered its overall layout. Fortunately, in this case, the challenge was unsuccessful, and Palazzo Madama still stands proudly in its place.