The Venaria Reale complex is a unique environmental and architectural whole with an extraordinary appeal, an immense, varied, spectacular estate where the visitor is inevitably enveloped by magical atmospheres in a context of cultural attractions and multiple leisure pursuits: performances, events, concerts and outstanding exhibitions alternate with entertainment, direct, intimate contact with nature, relaxation, sporting pastimes and cultural food and wine events.
Venaria Reale is the old town centre or "Borgo", a treasure trove of historical events and happenings; it is the imposing baroque Reggia or Palace which, with its vast Gardens, is one of the most significant examples of the magnificent architecture and art of the 17th and 18th centuries; it is the Park of La Mandria, one of the largest environmental havens in Europe where numerous species of wild and domestic animals live in complete freedom and the home of an important architectural heritage.
The new splendour and superb quality of the restored Reggia, the immensity and beauty of the Gardens and the natural area of the Park allow visitors to spend their time enjoying new sensations and different experiences, discovering a modern conception of "taste", leisure" and the "art of living" that is within everyone's reach.
The Reggia of Venaria Reale and the Royal residence of La Mandria have been declared World Heritage Sites by UNESCO.
The origins of Venaria Reale date back to the mid 17th century when Duke Carlo Emanuele II of Savoia decided to build a new residence to be used by the court for "pleasure and hunting". The choice of the site was influenced by the fact that it had already been used as a hunting domain since 1580, and because it completed the so-called "Corona di Delizie", the circuit of court residences that his predecessors had gradually built around Turin. This decision served as the starting point for a complex and impressive urban planning operation, on a scale that was unprecedented for the Savoy state. It would completely alter the existing town of Altessano Superior, which in practice disappeared to make way for the new town. The court architect, Amedeo di Castellamonte, was commissioned to draw up plans for its construction. He modelled the "borgo", the palace with its outbuildings, gardens and hunting domain (now the Park of La Mandria) into a spectacular and unique architectural and environmental whole, thereby creating a grandiose complex laid out along a single symmetrical axis that is still clearly identifiable today as the town's main street, Via Maestra (now Via A. Mensa). Venaria Reale was not conceived as a self-contained residence but as a carefully structured complex whose residential areas were integrated with those used by the court and then merged seamlessly with the surrounding nature.
The fulcrum was the palace, the so-called Reggia di Diana, built between 1660 and 1671, which was destined to undergo two centuries of endless changes, reconstructions and events that, by reflection, influenced the town's social and economic life. As early as 1693 the French troops under Maréchal Catinat sacked part of the complex and the architect, Michelangelo Garove, was commissioned to rebuild it after 1699, also in response to the changing architectural taste of the times. Moreover, following the accession of Vittorio Amedeo II, the last duke and future first King of Savoy, the regal ambitions of the dynasty needed to be reflected and celebrated through the grandiose scale of its residences: it was this that prompted Garove to conceive an even more imposing image for the palace of Venaria, one that was directly influenced by the French architectural fashions of the time, namely large pavilions joined by galleries and mansard roofs. Work on the extensions was resumed in 1716 by Filippo Juvarra (who was responsible for completing the Galleria Grande, recently referred to as the "Galleria di Diana", the church of Sant'Uberto dedicated to the patron saint of hunters, the Citroniera and the Scuderia Grande). The works continued until the second half of the 18th century under the guidance of other architects, including Benedetto Alfieri (who from 1751 built the connecting wings between Juvarra's central buildings, the riding hall, the new stables and the wing with the Torrione del Belvedere that linked the chapel to the palace). French travellers visiting Venaria Reale in the mid 18th century described it as "the King's largest and most imposing country residence".
Alongside the completely new layout of the buildings, the Gardens also lost the Italianate design that had been the wish of Castellamonte and were transformed into a large park "in the French style", stretching over 125 hectares, with intricately designed parterres, avenues, lakes, groves, pergolas and a large maze. After the French occupation of 1798 the Venaria complex entered a period of slow but inexorable decline: unlike the Hunting Lodge at Stupinigi, the residence was not part of the Napoleonic circuit of Imperial residences, and its treasures were gradually removed and its park eroded. During the Restoration period, the entire palace complex was used as a barracks, and for the remainder of the 19th century it was used by artillery regiments who played a leading role in the Risorgimento wars of independence.
Amedeo di Castellamonte was also responsible for planning what is now the historical centre of Venaria, built between 1667 and 1690. The focal point of the town is the Piazza dell'Annunziata, dedicated to the Annunciation. The two statues on the columns standing in the centre of the exedras depict the Angel Gabriel and the Virgin Mary: the unusual shape of the square is also reminiscent of the medal in the "Collar of the Annunciation", the symbol of one of the oldest and most prestigious Savoy orders of knighthood. The piazza was designed as a relatively wide area, interrupting the long axis of Via Maestra (or Contrada Granda, which is now Via Mensa leading to the Reggia). By breaking it into two parts, it creates a genuinely dramatic pause that heightens the final effect when the palace suddenly comes into view at the end of the street. In addition, the town needed a place that would serve as a social and cultural meeting point for its inhabitants, and that would also display the productive side of life in Venaria through the craft shops whose windows line the arcades. After the 17th-century phase and leaving aside the rebuilding of the Church of the Nativity of the Virgin Mary in Piazza dell'Annunziata in the mid 18th century by the architect Benedetto Alfieri, building work only resumed during the French occupation and mainly concerned new houses in the area south of the Contrada Granda. Once the Napoleonic occupation was over, no more major changes occurred for a long time, except to alter the use of various buildings. During the 19th century, the whole town took on a military look, like the royal palace itself, which was converted into a barracks.
The history of La Mandria, which is now a Regional Park covering some 3,000 hectares and enclosed by a 30-km-long wall, is closely linked to the town of Venaria and its royal palace: the estate was established in the 18th century as a centre for breeding and training thoroughbreds for use by the Savoy royal family who, followed by their court, spent time hunting on land that had previously formed part of Altessano Superiore. Today the park is one of the largest and most important environmental havens in north-west Italy, where various species of wild and domestic animals live in complete freedom or in semi-wild conditions. Moreover, the park represents the most significant example of woodland area on the plain in the whole of Piedmont. The construction of the so-called castle dates from the early 18th century and coincides with the second building phase at Venaria: other famous architects worked on the castle after Michelangelo Garove, including Filippo Juvarra and Benedetto Alfieri who had already worked on the royal palace. Following the Napoleonic interlude, a new chapter for the future park was inaugurated by Vittorio Emanuele II, who purchased the estate in 1863 and regarded the royal apartments there as one of his favourite places to live. It was during this period that the complex was expanded and embellished, taking on the final appearance of what is now Borgo Castello. La Mandria also includes a number of other major buildings located throughout the park. Among these, it is worth mentioning La Bizzarria, a strange building dating from the mid 19th century that was used as a hunting reposoir by Vittorio Emanuele II, and also the Villa dei Laghi, a neogothic style construction erected in the mid 19th century in a particularly evocative setting beside three small lakes. King Vittorio was also responsible for La Rubbianetta, the imposing horseshoe-shaped farm that was used from the outset for rearing horses.