On the Trail of Literary Giants in Turin

03 February 2012 Published in Piemonte Itineraries
Galleria Subalpina Galleria Subalpina © Copyright Delicious Italy

Turin is one of the great walking cities of Europe, but dont take our word for it. Others more mighty than us have explored the city and left their mark. Not least some of the greatest writers of the last 200 years. Perhaps it is not by chance that one of Italy's greatest publishing houses, Einaudi, was established here in 1933.

A Literary Tour of Turin is a booklet we picked up last time we went. Among those who feature include Primo Levi, Italo CalvinoCesare Pavese, Mario Soldati, but also non Italians such as Henry James, Gustave Flaubert, Tolstoi and even Erasmus of Rotterdam, remember him?

But a little more about  three lesser known pen pushers:


Samuel Langhorne Cìernens came to Turin in 1878 and remained mesmerized particularly by the Galleria Subalpina, an arcade whose iron and glass vaults attracted the American tourist. He described it as follows:

"It as a wide and lengthy court, glittering with the most wickedly enticing shops. which is roofed with glass, high aloft overhead, and paved with soft-toned marbles laid in graceful figures; and at night when the piace is brilliant with gas and populous with a sauntering and chatting and laughing multitude of pleasure-seekers, it is a spectacle worth seeinq."

The Galleria still houses the historical coffee bar and chocolate shop of Baratti e Milano.

He especially liked the city's wide open spaces:

"The streets are extravagantly wide, the paved squares are prodigious, the uniform blocks stretch away as straight as an arrow, the sidewalks are about as wide as ordinary European streets."


The German writer and philosopher praised every aspect of the Turin:

"This is a city after my own heart! Possibly the only one. Calm, almost solemn. The kind of buildings that speak to the heart; not Renaissance fortresses! And to glimpse the Alps from the centre of town! These long streets seem to lead straight towards their snow-covered peaks. Pristine air, sublimely clear."

Specifically, he admired Palazzo Carignano, the Carignano Theatre, the Mole Antonelliana, the beautiful cafés and trattorias, as well as the backdrop of the River Po and riverbank paths.


Along with Nietzsche, Rousseau is the foreign writer who has perhaps written the most memorable pages describing Turin. As a 16 year old in 1728, he was so affected by the House of Catechumens in via Porta Palatina that he rejected Calvinism to be re-baptized as a Catholic in the Cathedral of San Giovanni Battista. He was subsequently absolved of the crime of heresy in the 14th century Church of San Domenico.

In Émile (1762), contemplating the magnificent view from the Basilica of Superga, he wrote:

"He took me out of the town onto a high hill above the river Po, whose course we beheld as it flowed between its fertile banks; in the distance the landscape was crowned by the vast chain of the Alps; the beams of the rising sun already touched the plains and cast across the fields long shadows of trees. hillocks, and houses. and enriched with a thousand gleams of light the fairest picture which the human eye can see ..."

What an old romantic!