150 years ago Victor Emanuel II was declared king of Italy by the newly constituted national parliament in 1861. Today, government offices, businesses and schools will be closed while 150 years of Italian unification is celebrated throughout the country. All of the major Italian cities will celebrate the Notte Tricolore, an all-night party to celebrate Italian unification. Since Turin was the first capital of unified Italy, it made me think about that city, and one very interesting building that is not to be missed.
Beyond the old FIAT buildings, the vestiges of the winter Olympics and the famous Shroud of Turin [called in Italian the Sindone], there is a building that is quite interesting, with a quite interesting story – the Mole Antonelliana.
The twenty-six year construction of this structure began in 1863 by the architect Alessandro Antonelli [hence the name] – and it was built as a synagogue. When construction began on this structure, Turin was the capital of the newly unified Italy. The Jews in the city before Italian unification [then the Kingdom of Savoy] had full rights under the law and were not persecuted as they were in many other cities in Europe. The Jewish community hired Antonelli to build them a magnificent synagogue and construction began.
Antonelli continuously and impulsively modified the construction plans, much to the chagrin of the Jewish community and to the detriment of the project budget. In 1864 the capital of Italy was moved to Florence, and in 1869, due to the ongoing conflict with Antonelli and the constant budget issues, the project was halted. In 1876, the Jewish financiers washed their hands of the project, despite their having invested many hundreds of thousands of lire in the project.
Public opinion in Turin was that the city should intervene to take control of the as of yet unfinished structure, and finish it. In exchange for a piece of land elsewhere in the city, Turin took control of the structure and it was eventually completed.
At 167 meters [548 feet] this structure once housed the Museum of the Risorgimento, and today it contains a very cool National Museum of Cinema [Museo Nazionale del Cinema], where, among other things, you can walk through a giant refrigerator door, lay on a giant round velvet bed and look up at the ceiling where a film is being shown or sit on one of a row of toilets and watch a film. One word of note: despite the prevalence of crappy films these days, the toilets are unfortunately not functional.