Designed by Filippo Juvarra and intended to be the seat of the Royal Secretariats of State of the Ministers of Internal and Foreign Affairs and the Secretariats of War, the building was the true political heart of the Savoy State.
It’s in this space that Prime Minister Camillo Benso, Count of Cavour, gave life to the dream of a united Italy.
As you walk through Piazza Castello, right in the centre of Turin, you might happen to pass by what is now Palazzo della Prefettura, attracted by the medieval and baroque splendour of Palazzo Madama, the grandeur of Palazzo Reale, or the music floating out from the Teatro Regio under the arches. Yet, hidden away from the eyes of the most attentive, the Prefecture building conceals more than three centuries of history within its walls.
The building was designed by Filippo Juvarra as part of the broader urban rethinking of the square, promoted by Vittorio Amedeo II after his coronation as King of Sicily (1713). Back at the end of the 17th century, in order to adapt Turin from seat of the duchy to new capital of the kingdom, Amedeo di Castellamonte had perfected the “Command Zone”, the beating heart of the State, linking all the most important buildings for the management of Savoy power. Filippo Juvarra’s plan was based on Castellamonte’s project, according to which the architect from Messina conceived the building that currently houses the Prefecture as a connecting element between the Royal Palace and the Court Archives, originally intended to be the seat of the Royal Secretariats of State, the Ministries of Internal and Foreign Affairs and the Secretariat of War.
Left unfinished when Juvarra died, the building was extended and completed by Benedetto Alfieri between 1738 and 1757. The architect rationally organised the spaces, dividing them according to their function. As a representative environment, he created a majestic staircase and a 122-metre-long gallery for the king, so that he would be able to move around freely in an enclosed and protected environment from Palazzo Reale (the Royal Palace) to the Teatro Regio (Theatre Royal). Offices were set up next to it, while the apartments of ministers and secretaries were situated on the upper floor.
The Palace continued to be at the centre of the political life of the Savoy State for much of the 19th century. The ceiling of the gallery was embellished with sixty-two painted allegories to delight guests attending concerts and receptions to celebrate the marriage of Vittorio Emanuele II to Maria Adelaide of Habsburg-Lorraine in 1842.
A little further on, in the study at the end of what is now the prefect’s reception room, the fate of the nascent Italian state was decided. It was in this space that Prime Minister Camillo Benso Count of Cavour breathed life into the dream of a unified Italy.
With the transfer of the capital to Florence, the building’s functions changed. In 1866, it became the seat of the Prefecture, which was then joined in 1872 by the Province of Turin, which acquired the entire building in 1885.
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