Overshadowing the north side of the Piazza Castello, the residence of the House of Savoy was begun in 1646 and the family lived there until 1865. Designed by the architect Amedeo di Castellamonte, the palace reflects the ornately Baroque tastes of European ruling families of the time while its sheer size gives some indication of the wealth of these medieval oligarchs. In fact, the palace gives the ostentatious frippery of Versailles a run for its money; there are throne rooms, dining rooms, ballrooms, bedrooms, Chinese rooms, and apartments hung with priceless Gobelins tapestries, all lavishly adorned with silk walls, sparkling chandeliers, ornate wooden floors, and delicate gilded furniture.
The east wing of the palazzo houses the Armeria Reale, one of the most important arms and armor collections in Europe, especially of weapons from the 16th and 17th centuries. It’s also unusual for its collection of stuffed horses, which look likely to leap into battle at any moment.
Behind the palace are the formal Giardini Reali (Royal Gardens), laid out by André Le Nôtre, who designed the Tuileries in Paris and the gardens at Versailles.
The Savoy royal family had an even keener eye for paintings than for Baroque decor, amassing a collection of 8,000 works of art. The collection’s highlights are on display in the Galleria Sabauda in the Palazzo Reale’s New Wing. (This is a few minutes’ walk from the main palazzo.) The exhibition kicks off with early Piedmont and Dutch religious works, plus a moody Rembrandt self-portrait and two massive paintings by van Dyck: “The Children of Charles I” (1637) and a magnificent equestrian portrait of Prince Thomas of Savoy (ca. 1634).
In the basement beneath the Galleria Sabauda, the Museo Archeologico provides a thoughtfully designed exhibition, which tells the story of Turin’s development from Roman through medieval times. Incorporated into the museum is a section of Roman wall, remnants from the theater nearby, and a mosaic only discovered in 1993.
The Biblioteca Reale (Royal Library) is also part of the Palazzo Reale complex; it’s free to enter and you’ll find it (eventually) on the right of the main entrance. Founded in 1831, its scholarly wooden interior houses 200,000 rare volumes as well as ancient maps and prints. On the opposite side of the gates is the fine church of San Lorenzo, designed by Baroque master-architect Guarino Guarini in 1666. Its plain facade belies the lacy dome and frothy interior.
Warning: Security rules prohibit visitors from bringing in large bags (backpacks, duffel bags, and luggage) and the palazzo currently offers no place to check these items for safekeeping.