Turin’s Jewish Ghetto, Historic Doorways and Shops

Underrated Things to see in Turin

Turin’s Jewish Ghetto, Historic Doorways, and Shops have been combined in one tour meant to show the city from a new perspective.

In addition to its enchanting palaces and baroque churches, Turin boasts a rich legacy of history and art. Many hidden details and decorations may be often overlooked by a not attentive eye.

Meet Piemonte has devised an itinerary that unwinds through the heart of the historic city center of Turin, alternating secondary alleys with some of the most famous squares.

Proceeding towards the area of the Jewish ghetto the local expert points out an interesting collection of historic stores and access gates to the courtyards of palaces.

Dating back from the 17th century to the 1930s, doorways, and shops are enriched by surprising symbolic masks, cherubs, and animal figures.

Tour dei portoni, botteghe storiche e del ghetto ebraico di Torino
Historical coffee shop in Turin

Things to see in Turin: Historic Cafés and Stores

After surviving drastic economic and social changes, historical workshops have become part of the legacy of the community and as such have been protected by a regional law dated 1989 to enhance them.

The commercial sector influences the appearance and furnishings of the city since it defines the urban landscape with shop windows, frames, wooden structures (from the French language “devantures”), signs, and advertisements.

The tour of Turin’s Jewish ghetto, historic doorways, and shops focuses on the time between the second half of the 18th century and the first of the 19th century. At that point, most handcraft and medieval workshops left space for stores that had different visual impacts provided by the exhibited goods.

Aiming to attract increasingly sophisticated customers, who have reflected in the style of the stores themselves and, at the same time, felt part of a well-identified elite, shops became a social status.

For the first time in local history, consumers were induced to buy something they did not have, but they had always wanted: a first step towards a consumer society.

Tour of Turin's Historic Shops
Historic shop with wooden frame

Turin’s Shops with Original Furnishing

In our tour there is no specific typology of commercial architecture but what matters is the attraction towards goods.

We can notice the use of subjects, shapes, and colors inspired by the great European aristocratic residences. There is also the creativity of craftsmen who manufacture accessories, structures, and decorations made of iron and wood.

The tour of Turin’s Jewish ghetto, historic doorways, and shops reveals rich baroque handles found beside Renaissance gates, and 15th-century Florentine lanterns placed next to 18th-century Parisian marquises. Everything coexists in one single variegated environment.

The itinerary includes some cafes, groceries, and trimming shops, most of which are still original. The aim is to decipher the architectural and decorative elements present both outside and inside, on counters, shelves, chandeliers, and in pottery for the preservation of ointments, spices, and medicines as in the case of the ancient drugstores.

Tour dei portoni, botteghe storiche e del ghetto ebraico di Torino
Original 1930’s front door of a hat shop in Turin

Historic doorways in Turin and the role of the House of Savoy

Three urban expansions were carried out by the House of Savoy in an effort to transform Turin. From a medieval town into a ducal capital first and a royal city later, it had to express the power of the crown.

The construction of palaces, which were similar one to the other, uniform in their facades and height. It turned to be an architectural expedient imposed to give greater prominence to the new city streets.

Above all, the architectural style had to convey the presence of absolute power to which all families, even noble and wealthy, had to submit.

In this scenario, the only customization granted to the single buildings consisted of the magnificent and spectacular decorations of the doors. Gates became over time the identity card of the resident families.

The term “door”, which means “passage”, highlights the symbolic role of this element having the main purpose of protecting the building. They were conveying the social status of the owners and, at the same time, being a diaphragm between the external facade of the building and its inner and more intimate courtyard.

Portoni storici a Torino
Decoration of the upper section of a gate

Evolution and decoration of Turin’s historic doorways

The tour of Turin’s Jewish ghetto, historic doorways, and shops focuses on details, such as the elements of each gate. Initially, there were single-hinged doors, still visible along the itinerary.

Then, the doors evolved up to the double-hinged door with opposite openings and to various types that can be seen walking around Turin.

Recurrent components can be spotted, like the wooden over-doors and the wrought iron radial structure that allows light to filter inside, called rosta.

Other elements with the most disparate decorations are clappers (to knock on the door), sometimes replaced by door knockers.They are hinged only in the upper part so that they can be raised to knock (in many cases in the shape of a small hand).

The keyholes, which have survived the modern locks, and the knobs, with the function of facilitating the push of the door while opening. They were often hidden behind grinning faces, grotesque masks, tongues, faces of dogs or lions. While guarding the palace, they had the task of keeping away evil spirits or unwanted guests.

In addition to showing you the shape of each door, the local expert narrates stories and anecdotes related to the life of the locals who used to pass through the door every day. Worldly chronicles of noble families, stories of lovers and betrayals, secret meetings and legends.

Portoni storici e arredi urbani a Torino
Details of handles, knobs and wooden decoration

Turin’s Jewish Ghetto next to Historic Doorways and Shops

A few blocks from the high streets of Turin there are the blocks where the Jewish community was once confined.

In this area some gates with iron bars can still be seen. They were placed so as to give the guards the chance to monitor what was happening inside the courtyards.

It was also a way to prevent clandestine activities from being organized.

Established in 1679, the Jewish ghetto of Turin was one of the latest to be opened in Italy. As a matter of fact, Piedmont came from centuries of tolerance and from a series of economic agreements between the House of Savoy and the Jewish community.

During the 18th century the population of the ghetto exceeded one thousand people and had to expand. In the tour of Turin’s Jewish ghetto the guide points out some of the apartment buildings that are distinguished by having one more floor than the neighboring houses. Although being of the same height, the extra layer of windows is still visible. That’s because they had to accommodate as many families as possible.

After the emancipation commissioned by King Charles Albert in 1848, which allowed the Jews to move to other neighborhoods, buildings were restored. The ghetto used to have synagogues of Italian, Spanish and German rite (not visible).

tour ghetto ebraico a Torino mole
From the Jewish ghetto is partially visible the iconic Mole. Photo by Antonio Sessa

A look to Turin’s Jewish Ghetto, historic shops and doorways

In the 17th century, Duke Carlo Emanuele II ordered a second urban expansion of the city. That involved the streets where the Jewish ghetto would have been established later.

He also foresaw a large octagonal-shaped square, dominated by a monument to the Savoy Duke placed in a central position. The adjacent buildings could not have their main doors overlooking the square. The visitor’s attention had to be focused only on the statue and not be distracted by the beauty of the doors.

We admire the original 17th-century gates and those added later as well as one of the few buildings in Turin still boasting a courtyard garden. Designed to surprise the passers-by during the daylight hours, gardens were visible with the door open and depicted the power of the resident family.

The square offers the opportunity to look at the top of the iconic Mole Antonelliana. The construction of the massive dome is strictly connected to the history of the Jewish community of Turin.