It is hard to know to which country, to which century, Torino belongs. Tucked strategically between the western Alps and the Ligurian Sea, just at the point where the Po Valley levels out onto a fertile plain, it has absorbed wave after wave of conflicting cultures and conquests, ideas and conventions and more or less belligerent visitors. Hannibal conquered it once; Erasmus of Rotterdam studied in its famous university; and a descendant of the Dukes of Savoy became Victor Emmanuel II, first king of Italy. Mussolini and then the Allies swept that dynasty into the dustbin. Torino was bombed repeatedly and when the smoke cleared there were the torinesi calmly making cars and vermouth and going skiing on their weekends.
With the tenacity of the south and the efficiency of the north they live in their strange mixture of Roman encampment, medieval court, galloping baroque (their churches drip angels and filigree as their statues do bravado) and the steel and glass of 20th century production lines and exposition halls. Consider the city on a sunny afternoon in late September. At the rear of Torino's best single building, the Palazzo Madama, a small fat child feeds pigeons on the great flat blocks of Roman pavement under the shadow of massive towers. A few feet away an old man with a cape dozes in the sun beside a 15th century tower added to the same building. Around in front, under the august marble facade stuck onto the building by a capricious queen in the 18th century, khaki-clad carabinieri salute smartly while a plump lady from New York, wearing a brown silk suit and green makeup on her eyelids, has her picture taken by a fat Englishman named Harry with a flaring red mustache. Harry and the lady from New York are both attending an international hairdressers' convention in Torino, and nobody finds it odd at all, because torinesi have absorbed some of the tastes of all their epochs. They enjoy an Egyptian museum reputedly second only to that in Cairo, a museum of the cinema and one of medieval armor, and an automobile museum where the wonderful chuggers of yesteryear are displayed in sequence leading to the sleek roarers of today. They are happy to share these things with the thousands who come for the three biggest annual events in the city, the International Automobile Show in October and November, the Show of Technical and Engineering Design in September and the spring and fall shows of ready-made clothing.
Torinesi also have a highly developed taste for horse racing, exercised at two tracks where trotters or flat racers run 100 days a year, and in June 3-year-olds compete for one of Europe's oldest cups, the $16,000 Gran Premio Principe Amedeo, first run in 1881.
In sport as in business the city is led by the ubiquitous Agnelli family. Emanuele Nasi, grandson of Fiat's founder and cousin of Giovanni Agnelli, is president of the organization that runs both tracks, president of the Polo Club and the Automobile Club of Torino. Giovanni Agnelli himself used to own and ride horses, was for several years president of Juventus, one of Torino's calcio (soccer) teams, until he passed that job to his younger brother Umber-to. He likes golf, fast cars, motorboats, and was a fine skier until an auto accident stiffened one leg. He still maintains an interest in the ski resort of Sestriere, founded by his grandfather. Skiing is magnificent in Sestriere for five months of the year, and for the other seven there are fishing, one of the highest golf courses in the world and mountain climbing for the hardy. Just a bit farther from Torino is Cervinia, at 6,600 feet, where skiing is good for 10 months of the year. And only two hours away from the city is the sea.
Virtually unknown as a tourist attraction during all its long life, Torino suddenly has been discovered, thanks to the automotive explosion to which it contributes so much and to the world attention gained by this year's centenary exposition. Now not only the Agnellis, the Nasis, the dozens of other notable noble and wealthy torinese families but also the hairdressers from New York and the businessmen from Pittsburgh are aware of its strategic advantages as a jumping-off point for a sporting and sightseeing holiday.