About Turin 1911



To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Kingdom of Italy and display Italy as a unified nation, in 1911 three Fairs were organized in the three Capitals of the newborn kingdom: a floral exposition in Florence, an exposition of arts and history in the Eternal City, Rome, and the growing economy show in Turin with the Exposition of Industry and Labor.

The very first idea of a Fair in Turin came up from to the Press: a meeting of the Turinese Journalistic Association promoted a show devoted to the “Newspaper”. This idea enlarged progressively thanks to the consent of many (Buscioni, 1990; “Un’occhiata preventiva all’esposizione di Torino,” 1910). On the 14th of February 1907 (Touring Club Italiano, 1911) the general committee was elected at the Camera di Commercio in Turin, and Senator Secondo Frola was appointed president of the Committee. The vice-presidents were the former majors of Turin, Senator Felice Rignon, Count Ernesto Balbo Berlone, Count Severino Casana and lawyer Alfonso Badini Confalonieri. King Vittorio elected deputy Tommaso Villa[1as the executive committee president. A private fund was established based on the fundraising campaign through allowances of at least 100 Italian lire, reaching in the end 6.5 million lire[2] (Buscioni, 1990). The Turinese Fair was subdivided in 26 groups regarding: education; industry; agriculture and commerce; road, construction, and railway issues; sportive events (De Luca, 1911).



The executive board designated the technical committee formed by Pietro Fenoglio, Stefano Molli, and Giacomo Salvadori di Wiesenhof (Touring Club Italiano, 1911). The three engineers were charged to design a few structures (Arts applied to Industry, Music, Fashion, thematic structures, and restaurants) and to check the compliance to regulations and style. They ended up with a general plan taking the Paris Fair as an example of expositive city planned on the river banks (Buscioni, 1990). Other architects and engineers all around the world were called to design other structures: engineers Chevalley, Morelli di Popolo, Bariggia, Stefini, Calderini, Orsino Bongi, Rolando Le Wacher, Rigotti, Tamagno, Tanaseric, Eugenio Ballatore di Rosana, Ludovico Gonella, Moraes Rego, and Jayme Figueroa. 15 were the companies that constructed the buildings involving 5000 workers (Moriondo, 1981), amongst them were: the Carpenteria Milanese ing. Cavani e C.ia, Giovanni Gioia, Fornaroli e Borrini, Viotti brothers, Quadri e Colombo, Officine Savigliano, Porcheddu, Paolo Cittera, and Pasqualin e Vienna (Touring Club Italiano, 1911). Snow, strong wind – during winter 1910 and spring 1911 (Ferrettini, 1911; Moriondo, 1981) – and a strike that lasted two weeks and involving the 5000 workers – between February and March 1911 (Moriondo, 1981) - slowed down the construction of the structures (De Luca, 1911) that started on summer 1910 (Moriondo, 1981), but in January 1911 the pavilions erection was well advanced.



The role played by Stefano Molli seems particularly relevant, supported by the almost 600 architectural drawings preserved at Fondazione Marazza. The architectural language of Molli’s structures - and most of the architectures of the Fair - was inspired by the Turinese Baroque. The long theory of buildings on the right bank of the river gave birth to a white city mirrored in the water, producing a game of reflexes breaking the composure dictated by the stylistic unity and harmony, also generated by the background of the hill and the landscape surrounding the Fair (“Motivi ornamentali,” 1911). Many contemporaries praised the success of the Fair design on the pages of different newspapers and magazine since the construction of the structures in the Valentino Park, while some criticized the chosen style already in 1911. The idea of Turin Baroque tried to propose itself as national architectural style but in the end the Turinese Baroque did not create the idea of an Italian nation, but remained as symbol of regional not national identity, trying to put Turin into the international stage of the scientific, industrial, and economical spheres and proposing Turin as the most legitimate representative of Italy (Della Coletta, 2006). The 1911 Fair showed the neo-monumentalism inspired to the Piedmontese style of the XVIII century, resulting in a ‘disappointing test’ for Fenoglio, the architect of the Turinese Art Nouveau, whose work of the previous years had earned him a spot in the international club of Art Nouveau performers (Montanari, 1996). Contrary to the celebration of the Art Nouveau style in Turin shown with the 1902 International Exposition of Decorative Art, the 1911 World’s Fair declared the death of the Art Nouveau in Italy (Bossaglia, 1997). According to (Cornaglia, 2001) the pavilions inspired by Juvarra’s Baroque succeeded more in the intent rather than in the result. This language completely contrasted with a few structures, such as the Pavilions of Hungary and Siam. These pavilions were exceptional and colored architectures in contrast with the classical rigor of the ‘white city’ made by friezes, columns, capitols, and domes. Since the documents of the technical office of the Fair and private archives of the other two architects of the Fair are currently not retrieved (or they are lost), Fenoglio’s and Salvadori’s roles in the general design of the 1911 Turin Fair remain unclear today, and they deserve further studies.



The Valentino Park, the stage of many expositions, enlarged its boundaries to host the ‘White Exposition’ on the two sides of the river Po. Except for a few structures already existing at that time and still standing, almost 200 structures were built for the 1911 event and later disappeared, leaving no physical traces in the Valentino Park[3]. Currently, 188 geometries are geometrically identified on the selected map, but the name of 98 of them is unknown, while 8 built environment objects are retrieved, but their location is unidentified.  Besides national Pavilions, four new bridges were erected and colonial sections included many different geographical areas (Arabia, Tunisia, Egypt, Turkey, Madagascar, Senegal, Congo, Red Indians, Japan, India, China, and Indochina) where exotic elements were on show as camels, soothsayers, and belly dancers moving between a mosque, a harem, and a Muslim school. Thematic structures were constructed to exhibit specific items - such as machines related to electricity and work - allowing different nations to display the greatest advancements in technology and compete in the same place (Touring Club Italiano, 1911). The built environment objects include even the smallest structures as the numerous kiosks. These kiosks were so small that only a few lines describe them in some magazines’ articles, such as for the kiosk of cremation. 

Most of the pavilions were built in wood, reed, and plaster, such as the Pavilion of Fashion, the Alpine Village, and the Monumental Complex (Touring Club Italiano, 1911). Iron structures depicted in vermilion (Ferrettini, 1910a) were used in the Gallery of Electricity where pillars stood on plinths in bricks and mortar, similarly the Gallery of Great Britain was built with a metal structure (Touring Club Italiano, 1911). The Pavilion of Newspaper and the Stadium were the sole structures built in concrete and destined to survive after the Fair closing[4], the former was covered in bricks, the latter in natural stones (Ballatore & Gonella, 1910; “Il cemento armato all’Esposizione. Il Palazzo del Giornale,” 1910; “Lo Stadium,” 1910; Massaia, 1989; Touring Club Italiano, 1911)



The entrance to the fairground cost 0.50[5] or 1 Italian lira[6], automobiles and other vehicles had to pay an admission ticket. Pocket-sized photographic cameras were also allowed upon a payment of 1 lira ticket, while bicycles were not allowed (Touring Club Italiano, 1911).

Transportation services as two lines of aerial tramways, ferry boats on the Po – named Rome and Turin (Moriondo, 1981) -, and electric omnibus offered privileged points of view moving people from one point to another (Touring Club Italiano, 1911). An ‘aerial train’ composed of an airship leading two or three hot air balloons should move people from the Fair to the church of Superga in 6-7 minutes, but it was never realized (Moriondo, 1981). For the 1911 Fair, the train was connected from Porta Nuova station to the fairground[7], and a public transportation service was established for visitors using electric cars[8].



The Turin 1911 Fair demonstrated the ability of the city of Turin to succeed in fair organization (Arcari, 1911). At the closing, the success of the Fair is praised in many international newspapers, such as the Illustration of Paris, the Morning Post of London (“Il glorioso autunno dell’Esposizione di Torino,” 1911). The success of the Fair can also be retrieved in many ways. It can be measured by comparing the Turin 1911 Fair with the 2015 Milan Expo, the following World’s Fair held in Italy after 1911. Considering the number of visitors, 21 million people visited the 2015 Expo (Expo Milano 2015. Report Ufficiale, 2018), 16 times Milan population at that time[9].

Turin 1911 saw 7.4 million visitors[10], which is 18 times Turinese population of that year. Besides the large attendance, the grandiosity of the ‘Fabulous Exposition’ (Balocco, 2011) could be demonstrated considering the extent of the fairground in comparison to other fairs. After more than 100 years, Expo 2015 occupied 1 million m2, in 1911 Turin covered 1.2 million m2, slightly surpassing the extent of the following. The 1911 Fair can also be compared to precedent fairs held in Turin (1884, 1898, and 1902), they were smaller in area (less than three times the 1911 Fair) and saw fewer visitors (less than half)[11]. The number of structures specifically built - or already existing and used – for the event are also an index of the large interest of many nations and private companies in attending the Fair. Besides, the three designers’ abilities could be found in the fulfillment of the ‘Fabulous Exposition’ creation. Many characteristics led to the creation of this fictional city: the unity of style, the juxtaposition of the architectures with the natural context of the Valentino environment and the Hill of Turin, the ability to design structures in full respect of the vegetation and according to the uneven terrain. Even if the Turin 1911 does not represent a milestone in the history of architecture, these aspects were able to generate a sense of awe in visitors, leaving a sign in history.



The change in Italian alliances from the Austro-Hungarian-German Triple Alliance to the French-English Triple Entente was revealed in Turin 1911 Fair, especially by observing the large attendance of France with many structures and their strategic location on the fairground. Displaying national identities was typical of the World’s Fairs, Turin 1911 did no exception. The Turin Fair saw large attendance of many nations, which decided to build a national pavilion. Interesting socioeconomic dynamics can be studied and explained by observing their pavilions’ dimensions, location in the fairground, and architectural languages. 

Electricity was the main subject of the Fair (Buscioni, 1990). At the Paris 1900, Fair electricity was also introduced but solely under special conditions and without using direct electric current; while in Turin 1911 the production of electricity was displayed and the advancements of the last decade in the electricity applications to machinery were exhibited (Soleri, 1910) in the two largest structures, the Gallery of Electricity (20000 m2) and the Gallery of Machines (30000 m2) (Ferrettini, 1910b).

Many attractions cheered the event: new bridges, ferryboats, aerial transportations (“Un’occhiata preventiva all’Esposizione di Torino,” 1910), but also the Stadium - the largest stadium in the world at that time (Lavini, 1911) hosting 40000 spectators (Ballatore & Gonella, 1910) and built in 10 months (Massaia, 1989) -, the Gallery of Machines – also named Palace of Wonders – showed innovations such as the wireless telephone, magnetic telephone, loudspeaker telephone, the remote transmission of photographs, the magnetic field by Galileo Ferraris, cold lightning by Moore, the rotating electric field by Arnò, X-rays applications, experiences on rarefied gases and cathode-rays by Tesla company as to display the scientific progress of the many participating nations (“In Giro per Le Mostre Torinesi,” 1911).

Many historical happenings and events accompanied the Fair, such as the closing of the Pavilion of Turkey after Italy declared war on Turkey on the 29th September 1911 (Moriondo, 1981; “Torino. La Chiusura Del Padiglione Turco,” 1911), international regattas, airships races and the Turin-Rome-Turin aerial races, sportive competitions in the Stadium, award ceremonies, and several concerts conducted by Toscanini in the Palace of Festivals (Ferrettini, 1912; “L’ora del compenso,” 1911; Touring Club Italiano, 1911).



At the end of the Fair, the white city was gradually dismantled, storms of workers demolished the structures on the 20th of November already, the wood was sold, even if some portions of pavilions remained exposed to vandalism and bad weather – some remains were still there in the 1920-21 - , also due to the break out of World War I (Massaia, 1989; Moriondo, 1981; “Quella Che Fu,” 1912). Nevertheless, something remained:«Ciò che fu, rivive»[12] (“Quella che fu,” 1912), the Fair revives under other shapes because new ideas sprout, the Fair made its mark. The Fair was the largest ever held in Italy (Moriondo, 1981) and one of the largest ever had in the world (Massaia, 1989; Moriondo, 1981), before Expo 2015.



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[1] Elected major of Turin on 1stJuly 1909, he was the main promoter of the 1911 Turin Fair and also the 1898 one, deserving the title of Count bestowed upon him by the King Vittorio Emanuele III two days before the 1911 Fair opening (Ricardi di Netro, 2016).

[2] The 1911 Fair funding was a success compared to 1.5 million of fundings of the 1898 Fair and 1 million of the 1902.

[3] Currently, no traces are visible above the ground, a survey of the underground – for instance using a ground penetrating radar – could display something.

[4] They were both demolished between the World War I and II (Massaia, 1989).

[5] See the Admisison ticket (CDC, CDC-AT-0001).

[6] Comparing to the cost of a newspaper the admission ticket was cheaper, since a newspaper costed 5 cents of Italian lire at that time (Moriondo, 1981).

[7] See ASCT, Affari Lavori Pubblici, 1910, inventory 4895, folder 337, file 3.

[8] See ASCT, Affari Lavori Pubblici, 1911, inventory 5002, folder 347, file 2.

[9] Milan had a population of  1337155 inhabitants on the 1st January 2015 (ISTAT, 2015, https://www.tuttitalia.it/lombardia/18-milano/statistiche/popolazione-eta-sesso-stato-civile-2015/ retrieved 15th January 2023).

[10] People with free access are not included.

[11] The 1884 Italian General Fair occupied 440.000 mwith around 3 million visitors, the 1898 National Fair was around 400.000 m2 with less than 3 million visitors, the 1902 International Fair of Modern Decorative Art was 250.000 m2 (calculated on the fairground map) with 1.5 million visitors. References: 1898 L’Esposizione Nazionale, 1898; Guida Ufficiale Della Esposizione Nazionale e Della Mostre Di Arte Sacra, 1898; Masina, 2016https://www.museotorino.it/view/s/1c577b094dfc4ab0bdf47f734ebaf192  retrieved 21st February 2023.

[12] English translation from the Italian:«What was, it relives».