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The people of Turin make it special

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THE day after my wife, daughter, and I arrived in Rome, we slumped, weary from jet travel, onto a train bound for Turin. By Pisa, about two hours away, we were all drifting gratefully toward sleep. Then a bunch of high school students kicked us out of our seats. This car, we slowly learned, had been reserved. (So that's what those unreadable Italian signs had said!) Those of us in compartments had to squeeze into the hallways. The students turned up their cassette players, shouted along to ``We Are the World,'' and bopped their way to Turin, six hours away.

It was our first introduction to the people of Turin. We weren't favorably impressed. But apparently we looked as pitiful as we felt. The students' teacher spoke fluent English, and she and her students made space in their compartment for our four-year-old daughter, Anna. They entertained her for the rest of the trip. The teacher even invited us to dinner at her house.

Turin soon became one of our favorite European cities. We used it as a home base from which we traveled for the next six months. Before our visit, the Turinese had been described to us as cold and aloof. We found them anything but.

In 1564, the capital of the Duchy of Savoy, which once stretched from north of Geneva to the Mediterranean, was moved to the small peasant village of Turin. The site, at the foot of the Alps, in what is now northwestern Italy, was chosen strictly for the military benefit of its location. The village held just 20,000 people and was unremarkable for its industry, agriculture, or architecture. The Savoys could do with the village as they chose. High style and remarkably unspoiled

They transformed it into one of the grander urban centers of the region. Its original Roman grid pattern of streets was restored. On almost every corner, the Savoys commissioned impressive churches and palazzi. Many miles of covered promenades were built to protect royalty from the rain. A royal palace was built (now open as a museum), filled with gold ornamentation. Property owners were offered financial inducements to build along established architectural designs, producing a high consistency of style.

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