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Reggia di Venaria Reale
A treasure rediscovered
Almost forty years after it was built, the magnificent Reggia di Venaria Reale is back to its old splendor.
Sumptuous buildings, precious works of art, marble, stucco decorations and enchanting gardens make this Royal Palace of the house of Savoy one of Italy’s greatest attractions
by Mario T. Barbero
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Turin. Reggia di Venaria. The Reggia and the Fishpond in the Lower Park. Photo courtesy of the Press office of “La Venaria Reale”

It may not be exactly four centuries but the fact is that the majestic complex of the Reggia di Venaria Reale, at the entrance to Turin, has been restored to its ancient splendor only at the beginning of the third millennium. Today the Reggia is the second most visited site in Italy after the Vatican museums and before many other important Italian sites of world-wide renown. The reason for this success is in the unity of an architectural complex that has no equal, both for its history and for the infinite works of beauty that it contains.

The history of the Reggia begins way back in 1661 when Amedeo di Castellamonte, appointed by duke Carlo Emanuele II, designed one of the most outstanding architectural complexes of the time, ideal for hunting, and one which became the model for the oldest residences of the European courts. The complex had a great scenographic layout, full of fountains, gardens and garden-beds on two levels, to which one entered from the straight main road of the ancient town of Altessano while the nucleus consisted of the Reggia di Diana with, in the lower garden, a large fishpond. Following the destruction of some of the buildings in 1693 by the French troops, the architect Michelangelo Garove, appointed by Vittorio Amedeo II, designed a larger reconstruction of the whole complex which was carried out in different periods: from 1699 to 1713 the Southern Pavilion and the Gallery were built as well as the shell of the Pavilion towards the town; in 1716 construction resumed under the direction of Filippo Juvarra who remodeled Castellamonte’s structure, also raising of the Gallery and building the Chapel of S. Uberto. Later additions were the Citroniera and the Great Stables in the south-eastern area. The design of the gardens was done by Henry Duparc following French models. Other works, carried out from 1739 to 1767, involved the stables and the riding school and were performed by Benedetto Alfieri and commissioned by king Carlo Emanuele III. Later, between the 1700s and the 1800s, the architects Piacenza and Randoni oversaw the internal re-decorating of the apartments. However, at a later date, when the Reggia was abandoned in favor of the Palace of Stupinigi, there began a sad phase of decadence. After the Restoration, the Reggia was used as a barracks and later it fell into complete decay as a result of the presence of German troops during the second world war along with acts of vandalism by the inhabitants of the town.

Another of the jewels comprising this inimitable structure are the gardens, which appear to be a close union of ancient and modern, melding archeological settlements and contemporary works, with the whole thing framed in a vision of the infinite that has no equal in similar historical gardens in Italy. The Gardens of the Venaria Reale are a fitting accompaniment for this imposing complex. The 17th century plan had envisaged the creation of an “Italian garden” divided into three levels, full of sculptures and decorative arts represented by the Citroniera, the Theater Loggia, the Fountain of Hercules, the Temple of Diana and the approximately four hundred busts, bas reliefs, statues and telamons. In the early 1700s the layout of the gardens was redone according to the canons of the “French Garden”, the previous structure being demolished to achieve a new look with a one and a half kilometer extension, comparable to that of the Grand Canal at Versailles. Then, with the Napoleonic occupation in 1798, the gardens too went into a slow decline until well into the 20th century, so of the area’s ninety hectares most of it had fallen into such a state of ruin that it was impossible to even make out the original shape. So much for the past.

Now let us turn to the present. In 2000 this Royal Hunting park, which had been named Venatio Regia and then Venaria Reale, began to undergo restoration. And what was done was an actual reconstruction of “a landscape”. The course of the paths, the different levels, the embankments, the treelined avenues, the outlines of the islands of greenery and woods were restored in accordance with the remaining signs still visible through the years. Similarly, marble artefacts and decorations were brought to light and restored. At the same time the area of the Great Fishpond in the “Lower Park” was made accessible with contemporary art by the maestro Giuseppe Penone in the “Fluid Sculpture Garden”, along with the 17th century archeological structures of the Fountain of Hercules and the Temple of Diana, the English garden areas, the Flower and Rose gardens, the wooded area, as well as the restored Gran Parterre south of the Reggia.

The numbers connected to this complex are astonishing: a total surface area of the Reggia of 80,000 square meters; 145,000 square meters of plasterwork; 25,000 square meters of internal paving; 1,000 square meters of frescoes; 11 kilometers of decorative cornices; 1 kilometer of balustrades. The Park’s boundary wall measures 35 kilometers and the visitors’ trail is no less than a kilometer and a half long. Moreover, the approximately 9,000 square meters of Alfieri’s ex-horse-stables in the Reggia are now turned over to the Centro per la Conservazione e il Restauro (Restoration and Preservation Center).

Finally, the Reggia has also become an important focal point for cultural activities with shows, concerts, exhibitions and events of a high international standard.

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