Before 2006, the northern Italian city of Turin was perhaps best known best for its car manufacturing and for Juventus Football Club.
Then came a watershed moment, as the city played host to the Olympic Winter Games. The chronology of Turin can now be framed in terms of ‘Before 2006’ and ‘After 2006’.
As a result of the Winter Games, the city cast off its industrial soul to become Italy’s fifth biggest tourist destination – no mean feat in a country that boasts internationally popular cities like Rome, Venice and Florence.
The traditionally shy torinesi embraced the Games with open arms and warm hearts.
And even the local climate seemed to have changed: once moist and misty, the city now sparkled under a northern sun
Turin represents perhaps one of the best examples of how the Olympics can revolutionise both the urban fabric of a city and the attitude of its inhabitants. The tenth anniversary the 2006 Winter Games is the perfect occasion to take stock and look at how the legacy is being felt in the host region.
“Back in June 1999, when the IOC awarded the Games to Turin, it was pandemonium,” recalls Valter Marin, who is as well placed to comment as anyone. In 2006 he was the mayor of Pragelato, one of the ski stations for the Games. “All the journalists and the video cameras in the hall were turned on the delegation from Sion (the Swiss city that was rivalling Turin to host the 2006 Winter Games), the favourites to win the vote, and they then had to rush towards us. Being the underdog helped us a lot.”
Having witnessed the incubation, birth and the “explosion” of the Olympic Winter Games, Marin now watches over its positive after effects, as president of Fondazione 20 Marzo, the organisation that manages the legacy of Turin 2006
The 2006 Games put Turin on the map. “They were an amazing showcase for us. Imagine that, before 2006, only 40 percent of the customers of the Via Lattea (Milky Way) ski zone came from abroad: now foreigners account for 85 percent.” This was in part due to the fact that some of the money that remained from the Games was used to improve both the ski and the accommodation facilities of the area: “We need to work hard and achieve perfection as the competition we face is tremendous but we are now close to France and Valle d’Aosta,” boasts Marin.
“The Winter Olympics convinced us that another world was possible,” Marin continues. “Turin is industrial in her essence, but has also a lot of beauty and potential that were a little bit ‘curbed’ by the big factories. Tourism and culture have always had a subordinate role to the city’s manufacturing giants. Of course, the industrial crisis helped us to convert Turin into a tourist hotspot, but the Winter Olympics were the spark that made this revolution possible and achievable.”
The outcome has been incredible. In 2000, Turin welcomed less than one million tourists. Fifteen years later, the number has grown to six million. The New York Times has just ranked Turin among the top 52 destinations for 2016 (the only Italian city in the list). “A big part of the credit goes to the Giochi. They have been the excuse to not only modernise the ski facilities and to build new structures, but also a spur to ‘freshen up’ attractions like the Museo Egizio, the Museo del Cinema and the Reggia of Venaria, the realm that is our Versailles,” says Marin. And the job was perfectly done: the city is now the Italian capital of contemporary art and is by far the fastest-growing city in terms of tourism.
“The truth is that we also started to be ‘visible’ as a cultural hub: a lot of amazing exhibitions, such as the current Monet one at the Galleria d’Arte Moderna, have been ‘diverted’ to Turin because the Winter Olympics spread all over the world a beautiful and different picture of the city. We already had the museums, but we lacked charm”, he summarises.