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Ten years after the Winter Olympics, Turin relishes status as tourist magnet, but broods on missed chances

by Augusto Grandi

Light displays are not the only thing celebrating the ten years that have passed since the Turin Winter Olympics, which took place on February 10 - 26, 2006.

Without a doubt, the capital of Piedmont has regained, thanks to the Games, an international visibility that it had long since lost. And without the need for sensational upheavals: it was enough to just clean up the many Savoyard buildings, and the streets of an undeservedly underrated historic center.

The only real new strategic intervention was represented by the subway, a single line that was able to offer a new image to the city.

And then, above all, the Olympics have served to give a new awareness to the people of Turin of themselves and of their city.

It is no longer just the “factory town” and even less so the “Fiat city.” Manufacturing was and remains essential, but the idea of a city of culture, of knowledge, took off with the Games.

Museums were relaunched - from theEgyptian Museum to the National Cinema Museum , from the Museum of the Risorgimento to the Royal Palace of Veneria Reale , from the GAM (Modern Art) to the Royal Armoury - which existed before, but were not valued enough. A focus was placed on the Ateneo and Polytechnic as breeding grounds for ideas. And a tourist-friendly Turin was created that is able to attract not only managers visiting the city for business but also families wishing to walk among the birthplaces of Italy as a modern nation.

Not to mention Turin's ability to attract people as the capital of a territory offering the best in wine and food.

But the many lights that have illuminated Turin in these last ten years are not enough to cancel the more than a few shadows.

Because only today, after ten years, is the work on the Piazza Statuto, next to the Porta Susa railway station, coming to completion, even if already in 2005 the mega billboards illustrated the image of a square ready for 2006.

And the Palazzo del Lavoro, designed by Pier Luigi Nervi (a great civil engineer and a master of rationalist architecture, who collaborated with architects, such as Le Corbusier) for the centenary of the Unification of Italy in 1961, is falling apart.

The ice rink for hockey, next to the Olympic Stadium, was transformed into a venue for concerts and conventions. The buildings for the Olympic athletes have been occupied by illegal immigrants. And even tourism, which took off even beyond the most optimistic expectations, remains concentrated in the Savoyard Turin without involving the rest of the city.

But where Turin has really failed is in its attempt to take advantage of the Games to become the capital of the nearby Alps.

The relationship between the city and the mountains has never really been developed. What was lacking in the city was an attention to alpine culture. And the very expensive plants, created for the Olympics, were often transformed into abandoned ruins, whether it be the bobsleigh track in Cesana or the ski jumping hill in Pragelato.

The promise of creating a training site for the national teams on the mountains of Turin was completely disregarded.

The communication, too often inadequate, complicated the picture.

And when, on occasion of the tenth anniversary celebrations, the French couple Nicolas Sarkozy and Carla Bruni decided to go skiing in the Italian Alps, they didn't choose Sestriere or Bardonecchia near Turin, but the Hotellerie de Mascognaz in Valle D'Aosta.

This is thanks to a top-level hotel management and personal relationships with the owner (Paolo Vitelli, owner of Azimut Benetti) that were able to make up for the chronic lack of communication in Valle d'Aosta and to win over visitors at the expense of the Olympic mountains.

Certainly, Turin can be satisfied with the record number of visits to exhibitions and to the city's museums, taking advantage of the popularity due to the Games to propose new ideas, new events, new projects.

It can continue to bet on the growth of urban tourism, winning that bet.

But the relationship with the mountains remains nonexistent. And perhaps then those who claimed that the Winter Olympics can be organized even in Venice were right, using the mountains as a territory with slopes indispensable for some competitions while concentrating all the luxury events in the cities of art.