Thursday, September 06, 2012

Visiting Torino: The Mole Antonelliana

This Time, I take the stand:


I must confess, when I go to Piemonte it's usually for the wines, and when I do make it to Torino it's on the occasion of Slowfood's Salone del Gusto. However, Daughter C is a great fan of the Egyptians, and we therefore took her to see the Museo Egizio in Torino, one of the world's richest and most exciting collections of Egyptian artifacts.

And, when we emerged from the museum couldn't help but notice Torino's most prominent landmark, the Mole Antonelliana, a slender quadrilateral cupola whose immensely long spire seems to puncture the sky.

It wasn't planned like that, however: After the government of the newly unified Italian State relaxed the strictures on non-Catholic religious buildings in the early 1860s, the city's Jewish community asked Alessandro Antonelli to design a Synagogue for them. Construction began in 1863, but proceeded with difficulty because the he raised the cupola from the planned 47 meters to 113. Technical difficulties and cost overruns led the Community to halt construction in 1869 and apply a temporary roof to what they had.

In 1873 the City negotiated an exchange, giving the Jewish community a different area to build their synagogue, and dedicating the Cupola to King Vittorio Emanuele II. Construction resumed, with the cupola and its spire eventually reaching 167.5 meters, or about 545 feet, and thus becoming the tallest masonry structure in Europe. Alas, though Antonelli continued to work on the structure until he was past 90, using an observation basket that dangled from the center of the dome to check the work, he didn't live to see it finished. Rather, his son Costanzo completed the cupola in the early 1900s, while the decoration of the dome's interior was handled by Annibale Rigotti between 1905 and 1908.

Unfortunately, the weight of the considerably increased upper section proved more than the foundations were capable of standing (the fact that the cupola was built over a section of city walls Napoleon had demolished probably exacerbated the instability), and after a tornado ripped off 47 meters of the spire in 1953 architects wove a reinforced concrete skeleton into the structure to provide additional support.

After the restoration was completed the Mole Antonelliana was used to host temporary shows, and to showcase Torino, as it were: The observation basket Alessandro used was transformed into a glass elevator that rises quickly through the cupola, like a spider whizzing up a thread to stop at the base of the spire, where there is an ample observation deck offers an absolutely stunning view of the city.

Which, with just the occasional show, wasn't enough to draw people. So the city had an inspired idea, and transformed the cupola into the national Cinema Museum: the entrance leads directly to the elevator, where one waits about a half hour (at least, we did) and then whoosh up to the observation post; as you enter the elevator try to take a place by the glass wall, unless you are very afraid of heights, because the view as you rise through the air is delightful.

Depending upon the temperature you'll spend anywhere from 5 to a lot more minutes on the observation deck before returning to the elevator and descending to the museum, which begins with a large, fascinating section dedicated to pre-cinema animation techniques (shadow puppets, animations, dime-store viewers and so on) followed by a floor dedicated to cinematographic techniques with all sorts of cinematic keepsakes, including a black lace bustier belonging to MM, which is (from a male perspective) most impressive.

There's a ramp around the drum of the cupola with a great many poster boards and film posters, and down on the floor of the cupola are pieces of sets, including one designed by Gabriele D'Annunzio, more mementos including a set piece from Alien, and two viewing areas equipped with couches and continuous feeds; if you get tired of watching what's on the screen you simply look up at the cupola, whose lighting changes regularly, sometimes darker, sometimes lighter, and sometimes with images projected over it. Always interesting.

To be honest, though I paid the admission because I wanted to enjoy the view, I'd happily go back and spend more hours simply enjoying the Mole Antonelliana's interior. It's one of the most interesting museums (and buildings) I've been in in many years. I'll be posting photos on the blog version of the newsletter, at, so do check them out. And for more information on the Museo del Cinema, see

Published Simultaneously by IGP, I Giovani Promettenti.

We Are:
Carlo Macchi
Kyle Phillips
Luciano Pignataro
Roberto Giuliani
Stefano Tesi

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