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Palazzo Juvarra

The Sezione Corte in Piazza Castello

 

Javarra’s façade for the Archivi di CorteThe building for the Archivi di Corte was designed by the Royal Architect Filippo Juvarra between 1731 and 1733. In its way, it was probably a unique example in the Western world for the day: there are no other known National Archives in Europe whose premises are a single building designed exclusively as an archive from the start.

 

The function that this public building had to perform was to guarantee to the sovereign the preservation and rapid consultation of the legal titles and the documentation necessary to govern the state, regarding both domestic and foreign policy. The rational organisation of the archives and their scrupulous conservation by the House of Savoy began in the 13th century, when the castle of Chambéry became the stable seat of power for the County of Savoy.

 

In 1731 the Palazzo designed by Juvarra was accorded a precise and specific collocation at the heart of the capital of the Kingdom of Sardinia, which had been granted to the Savoia dynasty a few years earlier: the Regi Archivi were located close to the Royal Palace, the centre of the monarch’s absolute power, and physically connected to it by a corridor that crossed the Palazzo delle Regie Segreterie di Stato (the “ministries” of the Kingdom), the building that now houses the Prefecture.

 

The various stages of its construction can be traced in great detail thanks to the rich store of surviving documents. There are two different projects, both by Juvarra, one of which is signed by the architect and dated March 8, 1731, and can be considered the working drawing. The other is the Minutari contratti dell’Azienda Fabbriche e Fortificazioni, and it gives a detailed description of the work for the years 1731-1733, complete with numerous drawings by Juvarra.

 

Juvarra’s working drawing was approved on March 13, 1731 by King Carlo Emanuele III, who allocated the sum of Lira 62,202 for the current year; it envisaged a single building, with three floors above ground, five large rooms on each floor and a number of smaller rooms and a staircase at each end.

 

Thick fireproof main walls were designed to isolate the building from a possible fire in the adjacent buildings (as they did two centuries later when a dramatic fire destroyed the Teatro Regio in 1936), and to limit the damage of a fire inside the building. The building’s stability was guaranteed by robust floors (designed to prevent repercussions on the lower floors if the roof were to collapse), pavilion ceilings on the upper floors and mighty barrel vaults which were designed to discharge their load on the main walls separating one room from another, on the ground floor and in the cellars.

 

The façade was decorated with horizontal rustication on the ground floor, and on the two upper floors by a single “giant order” of pilasters with composite capitals. The roof was made of oak, larch and poplar and the definitive version was a mixture of two traditional systems used in Lombardy and Piedmont to distribute the weight of the roof covering. The working drawing of 1731, also indicated that the large rooms were to be furnished with wooden wardrobes, and these were actually built. At the centre of each room there would be a large table, so large they would have to be built on the spot.

 

Construction work on the main building began on April 11, 1731: the roof was completed and tested on November 29 that same year. The years that followed were dedicated to completing the building, plastering, laying the terracotta floors, the stairs, windowsills, walnut or poplar window frames, the 4480 windows and hardware. At the end of 1734, little more than three years after the work started, the “transfer” of the documents of the Archivio di Corte from the Royal Palace to the new building by Javarra marked the official start of activity in the new premises.

 

Since then, the Palazzo by Juvarra has continued to perform its purpose of preserving the documents of the Archivio di Corte, except for the period 1804-1815 when, having been stripped of all the documents it contained by the French government, the Archive was transformed into the Città di Torino High School. It was only in the 1830s, following the restoration of the Archivi di Corte ordered by King Carlo Alberto, that Juvarra’s building returned to its original function once again, although the documents had been returned there in 1814.

 

For a long time, the Archives were extremely reserved, and even the ministers of the Kingdom of Sardinia could not access them without the King’s consent. Only a very small number of visitors were permitted: for example those “distinguished persons […] who were driven by curiosity to see the building” («personaggi distinti [...] quando venissero portati dalla curiosità di vedere la fabbrica») mentioned in the Observations of 1742, indirectly revealing the Savoia pride in a building that was a model of functional architecture. It was only in the 19th century, as the concept of archive was gradually transformed from an instrument exclusively at the sovereign’s service to a historical resource, that Juvarra’s Palazzo began to open its doors to researchers.

 

In 1982 a large restoration and expansion project was launched for the Sezione Corte of the Archivio di Stato di Torino, to refurbish and restore Juvarra’s building, and to expand it by incorporating the area of the ruined Royal Box of the former Teatro Regio, which was destroyed in the fire of 1936. The plan included the enlargement of the repositories by the construction of two floors under the Royal Gardens, each 100 square metres in size, and able to accommodate 11,000 linear metres of shelving.

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Wednesday, 08 July 2009 11:10
Last Updated ( Wednesday, 25 January 2012 14:48 )
 
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