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  • Writer's pictureCristina Casalis

The Borgo Medioevale

Updated: Feb 26, 2022

The Borgo - panoramic view

The Borgo Medioevale, a medieval village, was created in 1884 as section for ancient art for the Italian General Exposition of Turin.

This project was conceived by an outstanding group of Piedmontese intellectuals and artists who operated under the guidance of Alfredo d’ Andrade, a Portuguese architect, archaeologist and painter.

Alfredo d’Andrade, after his beginning in painting, in 1870 started to be interested, as many of his mates of the Rivara school, to medieval monuments of Piedmont and Liguria, taking inspirations from the work of Eugène Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc.

The years dedicated to these architectural researches transformed his passion in a real job.

In 1885, d’Andrade was appointed royal conservator of the historical and artistic heritage of Piedmont, Liguria and Valle d’Aosta. This position allowed him to restore castles and churches as Saint Michael's Abbey (Sacra di San Michele), the symbolic monument of the Piedmont Region.

His works placed him side by side with Boito and Beltrami, the firsts to start in theory and practise the architectural restauration in Italy. The presence of d’Andrade in the art scene was fundamental in Italy and in Portugal. In 1881, the city of Lisbon invited him to display an exhibition of Portuguese jewellery and art in the South Kensington Museum of London (now Victoria & Albert Museum) and the year after he was asked to join the committee for the organisation of the ancient art exhibition for the Italian General Exposition of Turin 1884.

In the historical complex of the Borgo (medieval village), really clear appears the connection with the eclectic and gothic style of Viollet-le-Duc, and the intention to give more attention to a specific historical period that was less known and appreciated, willing to create a new imagine for the region looking to its past.

The structure, the decorative and functional elements reproduce 15th century buildings of Piedmont and Val d’ Aosta: the village is surrounded by defensive walls with in the centre a fortress built following the ancient methods of construction and materials, traditional of these regions at the foot of the Alps.

The village became a sort of museum of the traditional methods of construction inspired by the numerous castles of Piedmont and Valle d’Aosta but also to the famous Carcassone, a French fortified city famous for its 19th century reconstruction in medieval style.

The tower-gate in the entrance in the Borgo is a reconstruction of a castle in Alba that was after demolished in which d’Andrade replied also the fresco and the stairwells designed as a clockwise spiral till the top.

After entered in the tower gate through the drawbridge the visitors follow a curve street that ended in a small square where are placed shops built in bricks and wood materials. In the square there are several buildings also a church that are built as theatrical scenery with only a prospective façade.

The Borgo- the village

For the buildings he used as models Aschieris house and the old Inn of the White Cross of Bussoleno, for the church the model was the Parish Church of Saint John in Avigliana and the Sant'Antonio di Ranverso Abbey and for the fountains several were the models as the ones in Oulx and Salbertrand.

The Borgo- the Church and shop

The village was so popular and successful that it was no demolished as planned, but instead, the interior of the church was built .

This village represents a rare case of philological knowledge used in the recreation of the past.

The use of handmade works for the decorations is a connection with the Art and craft and the medieval artisan workshops.

The fortress is the central point of the medieval village and it was the only building intentionally created to be visited by the public in its interior. It is a noble family house completely furnished with rooms full of decorations, textiles and furniture.

The Borgo and the fortress are a collage of architectural and artistic models that the members of the General Exposition committee studied, sketched and photographed between Piedmont and Valle d’Aosta. The original buildings in some cases were destroyed by the rising of the industrial society and of which without these copies we would lost forever the memory.

In the Borgo there is a numerous presence of armorial bearings in the buildings in the village, in the walls of the fortress, in the Ghibellins battlements, in the capitals, furniture and decorations.

The choice was not politically neutral: it was chosen the period when de Savoy family was becoming predominant among the other noble families (Saluzzo, Monferrato, Challant, Valperga) and this was to underline their role in the history of Piedmont and Italy.

This ideal itinerary touches over 40 localities, some of the original models disappeared immediately after the construction of Borgo.

Visitors before entering should not forget that the village is not medieval but neo-medieval; it does not pertain to the past of vassals and crusades, but to the culture of the 19th century which studied and invented the image of the period we called Middle Ages.

The Borgo- the Fortress

The Borgo isn’t a false historical monument, this village is a declared authentic work of the 19th century and the culture that expressed it.

The Borgo is a kind of virtual reality in which the visitors of the 1884 were completely involved: the buildings were full of people in medieval historical costumes and in the artisan workshops were offering food and objects that have to remind to the vistors the medieval period.

For d’Andrade only a deep knowledge of the past could justify a reconstruction of it.

In the European debate about the architectural restauration, d’Andrade was in a moderate role. He followed an analytic and philologic research, developed reconstructive theories following the ideas of Viollet-le-Duc and favoured the historical studies on the originals and the understanding of the ancient methods of production of the materials.

An authentic medieval garden lies at the end of the Rocca route. Here it is possible to admire three different environments where the most representative medieval ornamental plants, officinal herbs and horticultural crops are cultivated.

the Borgo- the medieval garden @

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