Arguably the most famous steps seen on the silver screen, apart from those featured in the Russian epic Battleship Potemkin (or as a friend of mine likes to call it: Battleship Potato) must be those leading down from the Chiesa di Gran Madre di Dio in Turin.
The famous steps of the Church of the Great Mother of God in Turin, star of The Italian Job
It was down these steps that petty thief Charlie Croker (aka Michael Caine) and his gang drove three Mini Coopers full of stolen gold bullion whilst on the run from the police in the 1969 comedy caper The Italian Job.
Little has changed here since the filming of The Italian Job apart from the gating at the bottom of the steps, presumably to stop any enthusiastic fans re-enacting that famous scene
There were no signs of any Minis nor any wedding parties coming down the steps today, but there was this birthday greeting for ‘Guapa’: “What is a year compared to a life?!” Indeed
There are no roads around the church building even though the minis appeared from either side of the church before descending the steps. There is a perimeter path around the building, just wide enough for a small car to make a dramatic entrance from
The interior of the church is small but spectacular …
… with a domed roof to match that of the Pantheon in Rome
A beautiful building both by day …
… and by night …
… with views from the top of its steps to match
The Vittorio Emanuele I bridge seen from the steps of the Chiesa di Gran Madre di Dio was built in 1807 under the order of Napoleon who ruled over the Piedmont region for nearly fifteen years. When Vittorio Emanuele I defeated Napoleon and liberated Turin in 1814, he removed every trace of Napoleonic influence on the city apart from the bridge. Emanuele wanted to turn it into a symbol of French ridicule by encouraging the people of Turin to purposely trample across it on a daily basis, never forgetting their triumph over French occupation. The bridge was soon renamed in honour of the city’s liberator.
A symbol of triumph: the Napoleonic Vittorio Emanuele I bridge (seen here from the east bank of the River Po) where everyone is invited to walk (or drive) across it at some point during their stay in Turin. French tourists now welcome
A picturesque view of the bridge from the west bank of the River Po, and also a famous view; here, Croker’s fleet of Minis crossed the weir on the final stage of their Italian Job getaway within the city. The domed roof of the Chiesa di Gran Madre can just be seen poking above the tree tops centre left, and the tower seen centre right is …
… the Chiesa e Conventa di Santa Maria (church and convent of Saint Maria) on the 284m high Monte dei Cappuccini (Mount of the Capuchins)
The entrance to the church and convent of Saint Maria. Are those halos floating around it? I wouldn’t be surprised if they were as it is a rather saintly place
The views from the church of Saint Maria’s car park at the top of the Mount of the Capuchins are certainly worth making the short yet steep walk/drive up to the church. The soundtrack however, of couples smooching on the church steps as the sun sets over the city can become a little irksome after a while.
One of the best views over Turin from the top of the Mount of the Capuchins
Worth bearing the cold – and the amorous couples nearby – to wait until sunset and see Turin look even more stunning at night
Whilst I waited for night to fall at the top of the Mount of the Capuchins, I decided to pass the time watching a movie on my tablet. No need to guess what the movie was:
On days like these when fields are green and skies are … er … a bit overcast, I wonder what’s worth watching on the iPad
That iconic scene of the Mini Coopers being chased up onto the roof of a rather distinct looking building was filmed at – and on – Turin’s Palavela arena. Formally known as the Palazzo a Vela and before that as the Palazzo delle Mostre, the Palavela was originally built to host exhibitions for the Italia ’61 Exposition and to showcase how modern and innovative Italian architecture was in the 1960s. In later decades it was transformed into an ice rink where major figure-skating events have since been hosted, most notably for the 2006 Turin Winter Olympics. Standing close to the Palavela and seeing how steep and thin the roof appears to be, it is staggering how those Mini Coopers (and that police squad car) got up it in one piece.
Turin’s Palavela today (2014)
The entrance to the Palavela wearing its 2006 Winter Olympic rings with pride. There doesn’t seem to be much supporting the rather thin looking concrete roof. No wonder some of the Italian Job film crew at the time were concerned whether the stunt would be a success
The Palavela can be found on Via Ventimiglio, a short walk south from the new Lingotto metro stop (not the overground station of the same name which is much further away), located in front of another Turin and Italian Job landmark …
Turin’s famous FIAT Lingotto factory building on Via Nizza
Once a major producer of FIAT cars in Italy, the factory was closed in 1982 and renovated into a hotel, shopping mall, concert hall, theatre and public gallery.
The first of two floors now dedicated to retail therapy at the old FIAT factory
It is certainly worth following the signs around the building and ascending the lift up to the Giovanni e Marcella Agnelli gallery on the top floor not just for the exhibitions on display there, nor for its stunning architectural design best seen out on the roof …
The exterior of the Giovanni e Marcella Agnelli picture gallery on the roof of the old FIAT factory building
… but for access to the roof itself …
Stepping back from the Giovanni e Marcella Agnelli gallery
… because this is no ordinary roof. The architect of the building Matté Trucco designed the roof as a fully functional test track for FIAT. Cars were driven up from the factory floor to the roof on a spiral roadway at one end of the factory to complete several circuits around the track for final performance testing.
The north end turn of the FIAT factory roof test track
It was also here that The Italian Job getaway continued. As the Minis were pursued at high speed by the police in what looked like an empty highway above the city, Michael Caine was looking out for “… that bloody exit” off it. The scene ended famously with the three Minis successfully jumping a 60ft gap in the track with a huge drop into the major city traffic jam below. Although the pursuit and a number of circuits were filmed on the roof, the actual jump was filmed elsewhere on the factory grounds.
Via Nizza below
The factory building courtyard
Why Charlie Croker and the gang chose to drive and not fly out of Turin from here is anyone’s guess. As well as a track, the FIAT factory building also has a helipad on its roof
The control tower and helipad at the south end of the FIAT factory building
The view over the side: the factory car park (notably no Minis in sight) and in the distance the Oval Lingotto Olympic Arena built specifically to host the speed-skating events during the 2006 Winter Olympics. The arena is now used as an exhibition hall and the area around it is being developed (Summer 2014) into an affordable housing complex
The arch holding up the walkway between the old Lingotto overland train station (not to be confused with the new Lingotto metro station at the front of the FIAT factory building) and the Oval Arena
If the gallery is closed, one can try asking for a key to the roof from the building’s hotel reception (almost always successful if actually staying at the hotel). If all else fails find a lift, get to the top floor and hope a charitable soul is already out on the roof to grant access. Just don’t get locked out up there (as I almost did)!
At last, we’ve found the bloody exit
Clearly too busy trying to escape the city with their stolen gold to notice, The Italian Job gang passed by and through (literally) some of Turin’s stunning nineteenth and early twentieth century architectural treasures.
The baroque Palazzo Carignano on Via Accademia delle Scienze, once a royal private residence, now home to the National Museum of the Italian Risorgimento. It was also here that The Italian Job heist began with the bullion van being sieged and taken into the building by Croker and his gang
Good to see the doors the police rammed in to get to Croker and the gang have been replaced almost seamlessly
A jolly character over the doorway to the Palazzo Carignano
Inside the Palazzo Carignano where Croker’s gang loaded the gold onto the waiting Mini Coopers
Behind them the courtyard leading out to Piazza Carlo Alberto
From the courtyard, one can best appreciate the unique rounded structural elements of the baroque Palazzo
Bollards notably blocking an entrance into the nineteenth century side of the palazzo, no doubt to stop a repeat of The Italian Job getaway
Croker’s gang drove through the Palazzo Carignano and with the magic of cinematic editing, appeared inside the Palazzo Madama …
The beautiful baroque facade of Palazzo Madama in Turin’s Piazza Castello
Originally a royal palace and later a prison, military barracks, supreme court and location for a fictitious bullion getaway, the Palazzo Madama is now home to the Civic Museum of Ancient Art. Although there is an entrance fee to the museum, staff are happy for Italian Job fans (like myself) to wander freely along the stairway …
… where the three getaway Minis came down, around …
… and down again …
… before reaching the bottom, turning left, and out the door …
… which should have brought them out into Piazza Castello but instead the Minis appeared coming down the stairs at the far end of the glamorous Galleria Subalpina a short walk from the Palazzo Carignano (so technically the Minis went back on themselves at this point, driving around in a circle)
Designed by Pietro Carrera in the late nineteenth century, the Galleria dell’Industria Subalpina is a stunning mix of baroque and renaissance styles popular in the bourgeois shopping arcades of France at the time
A sign forbidding passers-by to sit on the Galleria’s steps, no doubt for their own safety should a Mini Cooper come speeding down these steps again
The Galleria Subalpina was one of three Parisian-style shopping arcades built in the 1870s and 1880s to cater for the growing demand for consumerism in Turin at the time. The Galleria Umberto I in Via della Basilica, a short walk north-west of Piazza Castello is as well preserved today as the Galleria Subalpina. The Galleria Natta however was demolished in the 1920s to make way for improvements to Via Roma, and a new shopping arcade – the Galleria San Federico – was built in its place a few years later. As with the Galleria Subalpina, the Galleria San Federico is a stunning mix of architectural styles from Baroque grandeur to organic Art Nouveau, a fact no doubt completely ignored by Michael Caine as he and the Italian Job getaway gang sped through the arcade pursued by a police officer on a motorbike who subsequently skidded across the newly washed floor.
Inside the Galleria San Federico. The floor was dry on this occasion
Simply beautiful (and I’m not referring to the shy young lady having her photograph taken)
The delightful ceiling to the Galleria
One of the glorious shop fronts in the Galleria (I guess this is not the entrance into McDonalds)
Baroque and Art Nouveau sitting comfortably together. I wonder whether The Italian Job was ever shown in the Galleria’s Lux cinema
Sassi, Sexy and Super(ga): Travelling in style around Turin without breaking the bank, and visiting the beautiful basilica di Superga above the city
The loveliest mole one will (arguably) ever come across: Turin’s stunning Mole Antonelliana