Italian Art and Culture

Exploring Turin: Palazzo Madama

We spent 44 hours in Turin spread over 3 days. It was not enough!

I am still processing both literally and figuratively the images this amazing city left me with. There are so many, I am quite frankly a bit overwhelmed.

Many things jump at you in the former capital of Italy:  the crazy driving, the world-class museums, the fabulous buildings with zigzaggy balconies and mansard windows, the constant stream of cultural events, the huge parks, the powerful river Po, the chocolate, the gelato and the mesh of long straight streets which intersect at perfectly right angles.

So, I thought that before I dive in head first and introduce you to Turin the way I saw it, I should start by telling you about my favourite place in this dynamic city.

Side view of Palazzo Madama, Turin, Italy

This eclectic building is Palazzo Madama. Its story stretches back to the 1st century BC and it owes its name to the fact that two queens (it. Madama) of the House of Savoy chose it as their residence.

Nowadays it houses the Civic Museum of Antic Artefacts plus it regularly hosts amazing temporary exhibitions. It also has a garden, a panoramic tower, several unique collections and some of the most spectacular painted and ornamented ceilings I have ever seen.
The ceiling of the ball room, First floor, Palazzo Madama, Turin, Italy
The best bit about Palazzo Madama is that it appealed to every member of our small party. My husband loved the art.
Madonna with a child, Barnaba da Modena, middle of 14th century, Antique Art Museum, Palazzo Madama, Turin, Italy
Our little daughter enjoyed exploring the garden with its fruit trees, grapevines and chirruping little birds.
Grapevine, Garden, Antique Art Museum, Palazzo Madama, Turin, Italy
As for me, I was simply overjoyed to be in a palace-cum-museum which was so well organised so as to provide books and puzzles for its little visitors to keep them occupied whilst their parents took turns to explore the lavish rooms full with splendid treasures.
Ceramics Depository, Antique Art Museum, Palazzo Madama, Turin, Italy
So, let me tell you more about our visit there.
Palazzo Madama is composed of two distinctly different sections – the front one was built of white stone in the 18th century and the brown-red brick one dates back to the Middle Ages.
It is so unusual and whimsical plus it has such a fabulous name, that whilst planning our stay in Turin, I instantly decided to go there as soon as I stepped foot in the city.
This is why on Monday afternoon, freshly arrived in Turin, we headed straight there holding our Turin and Piedmont cards courtesy of Turismo Torino – the city’s Tourist Office. 
We spent a few minutes on Piazza Castello simply admiring the grand palaces which surround it. The façade of Palazzo Madama stood out for me with its enormous windows and rich ornamentation. 
Palazzo Madama, Turin, Italy
I particularly loved the three lion heads above the main entrance. You could tell that time had left its mark on the middle one, but that made it even more interesting to look at while wondering what its story might be.
One of the three lion heads above the entrance, Palazzo Madama, Turin, Italy

Inside we found ourselves in a sumptuous entrance hall.

The entrance hall, Palazzo Madama, Turin, Italy

On each end of it grand staircases led upstairs to a place straight out of an architectural fairytale. Designed and built by Filippo Juvarra, it represents an attempt to renovate the whole palace in the baroque style. However, only the front section was completed.

The upstair entrance hall, Palazzo Madama, Turin, Italy

Access to this part of Palazzo Madama is free of charge, so, if you are in Turin, you can go there as many times as you want and admire its beauty.

Going up the stairs in the entrance hall, Palazzo Madama, Turin, Italy

Once we had our fill of baroque grandeur, we went back downstairs. There a small door led us to the ticket office and from there to the actual entrance to the collections and the exhibition spaces.

A figure of St. Catherine at the entrance to the Antique Art Museum, Palazzo Madama, Turin, Italy

The first room we stepped in had a number of medieval wooden altarpieces adorned with the most whimsical and even terrifying figures.

A detail of a wooden altar, Antique Art Museum, Palazzo Madama, Turin, Italy

This creature actually fills me with dread and as I am writing this late into the night, I instinctively start scrolling quickly so as to avoid looking at this picture each time I need to go up and down my text. At the same time, I cannot help it, but admire the imagination of the unknown master who carved it perhaps reliving a nightmare that had terrorised him.

A detail of a wooden altar, Antique Art Museum, Palazzo Madama, Turin, Italy

From there we went through several rooms exploring the art and the artefacts. It is amazing how some pieces seem to talk to you and touch you deeply even though they had been created many centuries ago.

Sculpture 1510-1520, Antique Art Museum, Palazzo Madama, Turin, Italy

Others you can’t stop looking at due to their sheer shock value.

Flemish goldsmith, A plate with the severed head of St. Jonh the Baptist, Antique Art Museum, Palazzo Madama, Turin, Italy

It is also always interesting to see in such museums of antics and antiquities what has survived the passage of time and the destruction by human hand and natural disasters.

The collections of the Civic Museum of Antic Artefacts in Palazzo Madama in Turin were splendid, dazzling us with their golds and their emotional subject matters.

Then a more subdued room with funeral stele and gravestones followed.

Funeral stelas, Antique Art Museum, Palazzo Madama, Turin, Italy

From there we went downstairs to the moat floor which houses the lapidary, several pieces of ancient mosaics, a ceramics depository and then leads to the exuberant garden.

Roman mosaics, Antique Art Museum, Palazzo Madama, Turin, Italy

I particularly loved exploring the ceramics depository which was a huge room with cabinets up to the ceiling which were full with plates, figurines, cups and everything else you can imagine made of china and porcelain.

Ceramics Depository, Antique Art Museum, Palazzo Madama, Turin, Italy

Ceramics Depository, Antique Art Museum, Palazzo Madama, Turin, Italy

The garden offered us a much needed respite and also gave us a beautiful close-up of the medieval section of Palazzo Madama with its towers.

View from the Garden, Antique Art Museum, Palazzo Madama, Turin, Italy

Dozens swallows were darting above our heads in and out of their nests. Butterflies fluttered around us. Water features quietly murmured. Small trees were covered with abundant fruit.

It was idyllic.

We found a secluded corner and just enjoyed a moment together as a family. It was so peaceful that it was easy to forget that we were in the heart of Turin – a city of close to two million inhabitants.

Thistle, Garden, Antique Art Museum, Palazzo Madama, Turin, Italy

When we were ready to continue exploring Palazzo Madama, we took the modern lift nestled in one of the medieval towers.

The elevator, Antique Art Museum, Palazzo Madama, Turin, Italy

Up we went to the first floor which captivated me with its rich collection of paintings, art and furnishings.

Window shutters, First floor, Palazzo Madama, Turin, Italy

Even the window shutters were imaginatively painted and patterned.

Window shutters, First floor, Palazzo Madama, Turin, Italy

The ballroom took my breath away.

An exhibition in the ball room, First floor, Palazzo Madama, Turin, Italy

It was grand and magnificent. With ceilings so high above us that they could have easily been the sky. With walls decorated exuberantly with sculptures and frescoes.

The ceiling in the ball room, First floor, Palazzo Madama, Turin, Italy

An exhibition called ‘Time Table: The Table through the Centuries’ was taking place there. Glass displays showcased the layouts of the crockery, cutlery, china and glasses typical for different bygone eras.

Tureen, First floor, Palazzo Madama, Turin, Italy

Plates, First floor, Palazzo Madama, Turin, Italy

From the ballroom we walked around the rest of the baroque rooms, each of which surpassed the previous with its lavish art and ornamentation.

First floor, Palazzo Madama, Turin, Italy-2

I particularly liked the room of the Royal Madam with its fainted looking glasses which reminded me a bit of the Hall of Mirrors in the Palace of Versailles.

Another highlight was the ceiling of this room which had been turned into an art gallery.

First floor, Palazzo Madama, Turin, Italy

Among the magnificent furniture there was also an old palanquin adorned with exotic female figures.

Close-up of the rich ornamentation on a palanquin, First floor, Palazzo Madama, Turin, Italy

I felt like I could spend hours there exploring every little detail, admiring every work of art and still there would be so much more left to discover and learn about.

Male bust, Second floor, Palazzo Madama, Turin, Italy

Next we went up to the second floor which contained a lavish collection of china, jewellery, fabrics and glass.

The second floor, Palazzo Madama, Turin, Italy

One last ascent – to the top of the panoramic tower – afforded us beautiful views over Turin – the city we had just arrived in and which had already captured our imaginations thanks to the amazing collections hidden in the bosom of Palazzo Madama.

Turin's skyline seen from the panoramic tower of Palazzo Madama, Turin, Italy

Tune in again in the next few days as I will be telling you more about taking in Turin and my highlights from our first visit to this dynamic city.

I have already started to make plans about returning there before the end of the year.

If you find yourself in Turin, make sure that you include Palazzo Madama in your list of things to do and see. You will love discovering its treasures and their story.

Palazzo Madama – Museo Civico d’Arte Antica
Piazza Castello
10122 Turin
Italy
Tel: +39 0114433501
Email: palazzomadama@fondazionetorinomusei.it
Web: www.palazzomadamatorino.it

Close-up of the facade, Palazzo Madama, Turin, Italy


N.B. We visited Palazzo Madama with Turin and Piedmont cards 
courtesy of Turismo Torino – the city’s Tourist Office. 
All opinions are strictly my own.

About the author

Rossi

Rossi

Hello! I am Rossi - a Bulgarian currently living in Italy after a 14-year stint in England. This is my blog about my life in these three countries, travels around Europe and opinions about the world we live in. For regular updates, please, subscribe to my newsletter and follow me on social media online. You can also get in touch via the Contacts form or by commenting on the articles in my blog.

Leave a Comment