“Cities, like dreams, are made of desires and fears,” wrote Italo Calvino in Invisible Cities. Though Turin is not the first Italian city I have fallen in love with, what I experienced there had not happened to me before. I went there with no expectations and stumbled upon the treasure chest of visible beauty and hidden meaning. Nietzsche identified with Turin and called the city dignified, Calvino marveled at its logic which opens the way to madness, while Giorgio de Chirico was so captivated by this “deep, enigmatic and disquieting” place that it inspired him to create his famous paintings of haunting cityscapes. He enthused about the unique Stimmung (atmosphere) of this curious city and he especially loved its long arcades and “mournful piazzas.” From my perspective, the haunting atmosphere of the city is undeniable. It is palpable even before one hears about the rich esoteric lore associated with Turin.
Looking at cities through the lens of myths and legends is not subpar to what can be found in historical chronicles. What a city dreams about itself flows like blood stream under the skin of its body of architecture. The truth of myth is deeper and more mysterious than the narrow fact checking. Officially, Turin was founded by the Romans, who built it exactly on the 45th parallel North with four entrances positioned in relation to the four cardinal points and where two rivers – Po and Dora met. The 45th parallel itself, positioned in equilibrium halfway between the North Pole and the Equator, was where many ancient civilizations flourished and where, incidentally, the best wines in the world are made. According to esoteric traditions, Turin is a vortex point between the archetypal forces of light and darkness. It participates both in the triangle of white magic, together with Prague and Lyon, and black magic with San Francisco and London.
Further mysteries are uncovered by Alessandro Romboni in a video summarizing myths and legends of Turin. Some believe, for example, that a priest or even a brother of Osiris himself, founded the city and named it Turin to connect it to the god Apis, represented by the sacred bull. Before dismissing it as legend one has to wonder at the coincidence of the second most important Egyptian museum in the world having its home in Turin. The museum deserves a separate blog entry. Jean-François Champollion, the renowned decipherer of the Egyptian hieroglyphs, uttered these evocative words when the museum was opened: “The path to Memphis and Thebes passes through Turin.” In his documentary Romboni states that Turin was born of the union of the rivers Po, representing the sun and the river Nile; and Dora, symbolizing the moon and the goddess Isis. Isis, as a matter of fact, has a firm presence in the city first of all thanks to the magnificent Bembine tablet of Isis housed in the Egyptian Museum (more on that in a future post) and secondly to the Church of the Great Mother of God which was supposedly erected where a former Isis temple stood. The church is supposed to hold the key to the legend of the Holy Grail, which is believed to be present in Turin.
The sacred marriage of opposites seems to permeate the mythical tissue of the city. Piazza Statuto is an eerie place and supposedly the “black heart” of the city. It is located in the West, where the sun sets. It was an area of executions and burials. The magnificent Frejus monument located there is supposedly guarding the doors to Hell. The monument is a tribute to those who died during the construction of a mountain tunnel between France and Italy. But from an esoteric standpoint, the angel atop the statue is Lucifer himself. Before heading to the “white” part of the city it is worth visiting Piazza Solferino. Besides the absolutely stunning Church of the Great Mother of God, this corner of the city made quite a powerful impression on me. The Angelic Fountain to be found there is said to be the gate to infinity. The two statues of giants pouring water from jugs symbolize the Pillars of Hercules, beyond which, according to Plato Atlantis was located and the realm of the Unknown started. The pillars warned the sailors to go no further, though Dante in Inferno mentions that Ulysses ignored the warnings and ventured beyond the pillars to gain knowledge of the unknown. On the left and right sides of the fountain respectively there are goddess allegories of Spring and Summer, symbolizing sacred and profane knowledge.
The white magic part of the city is located in the vicinity of the Royal Square. In the nearby cathedral the most famous relic of Christianity is preserved, namely the Shroud of Turin – the negative cloth bearing the imprint of Jesus, whose body was believed to be wrapped in it before resurrection. The frenzy and the controversy surrounding the shroud seems to be as palpable as ever. I do not pretend to have any definitive answers, but I share a deep conviction with many that there is a miraculous energy connected with this icon. On the wall of the cathedral one can spot a plaque with signs of the zodiac with the arrow pointing from Capricorn to Cancer, the signs of the solstices, associated with darkness and light. The Royal Square itself is quite wonderful from an architectural standpoint. The equestrian statues of Castor and Pollux are believed to be guardians of the threshold of the holy and unholy part of the city. They are the mythical Twins, one mortal, one divine, who further emphasize the ever-present duality of the city. To enhance the mythical power of the city even further, it is believed that three alchemical caves are located under Palazzo Madama, located to the right of the Royal Palace.
Turin, a city which on a symbolic level embodies unio oppositorum, played an influential role in the unification of Italy in the 19th century. It was the first capital of the newly united country. The ruling Savoy family practiced and preached religious tolerance, often snubbing the pope by inviting persecuted religious groups, including famous occultists and alchemists and even Nostradamus, who apparently left a plaque, now lost or perhaps hidden, with the following inscription: “Nostradamus stayed here, where heaven, hell and purgatory are. I am called Victory. He who honours me will be glorious, he who scorns me will be ruined completely.”
Mysteries upon mysteries prevail in the city. Tourists tend to overlook this corner of Italy but I cannot help thinking that it is the city itself that does not wish to be swarmed by a horde. I will be returning there, though bearing in mind that this is not a place for faint-hearted. The convergence of energies seems to be quite powerful. After all, it was in Turin where Nietzsche is said to have lost his mind.