The Italian Almanac


Hunting Lodge of Venaria Reopens

The magnificent Savoy hunting lodge which was the model for Versailles opened to the public after a 200-million-euro restoration. The Reggia di Venaria, which is surrounded by 80 hectares of geometrically laid-out gardens, had been virtually abandoned for two centuries when work began in 1999 to bring it back to its former glory. One of the first to enter the palace, the centre of Europe's biggest restoration project of recent years, was Emanuele Filiberto of Savoy, the grandson of Italy's last king.

The grandiose Baroque summer residence was built outside Turin by Savoy ruler Carlo Emmanuele II in the mid-17th century. The Venaria estate is often called the Italian Versailles because French king Louis XIV copied it when he built his own country residence outside Paris. UNESCO has declared it part of humanity's cultural heritage. Architect Amedeo di Castellamonte designed the complex, centered around the Reggia. In the grounds there was a little village to house embers of the court and stables for 200 horses and 200 hounds.

Completed in 1663, the Reggia was destroyed in 1693 by French troops who invaded the Savoy kingdom. It was rebuilt in 1708, with a citrus grove and a church considered one of the masterpieces of the Italian Baroque, the chapel of Sant'Uberto. The Savoys used the lodge for almost a century, until the arrival of Napoleon's troops in 1797. The estate was allowed to deteriorate after that point, serving the Savoy family as a stable, and later used by Hitler's officers as a barracks.

The opening of Venaria is being marked with an exhibit - "The Art, Magnificence and History of a European Court" - which features paintings, busts, silverware, armour and precious tapestries. It showcases 450 works from private museums and collections around the world, designed to explore the tastes and history of the Savoys. Visitors will also be able to enjoy a show by British director Peter Greenaway, who is orchestrating a kind of visual game using projected images to recreate the atmosphere of a 16th-century court.