168 m long and 76 m broad, the square has a surface of 12.768 sq. and can contain about 20.000 people; it lies in the middle of the Via Roma thoroughfare stretching from Piazza Castello to Piazza Carlo Felice.
“Freedom is participation”
– G. Gaber
The square, one of the finest and poshest in the city, was designed by C. di Castellamonte in the early 17th century; the city had newly (1559) become the capital of the Savoy Dukedom and was setting about spreading outside the Roman walls crossing this site. The square is lined on its southern side by the twin baroque churches of Santa Cristina (1639), designed by Castellamonte, and San Carlo (1619), ascribed to a number of architects incl. Castellamonte himself. In the middle of the square stands an equestrian statue of king Emanuele Filiberto, by C. Marocchetti (1838), nicknamed by locals ‘El Caval ‘d brons’ (‘The bronze horse’). Several noble mansions look on to the square, among which the Solaro del Borgo’s – formerly Isnardi di Caraglio’s – at nr.183, is worth mentioning.
This square witnessed on Sept. 21th 1864 one of the grimmest events in the city’s history, as reminded by a plate on its southern side: following the decision to displace the capital of Italy to Florence, many inhabitants of Torino peacefully rallied in the square to protest, but the police cracked down on them ruthlessly, and many people lied on the ground.
The square has ever been the hub of the city’s major political and union demonstrations, even more so after WW2. The traditional May 1st processions set out from Piazza Vittorio Veneto – among the largest arcaded squares in Europe – then parade along Via Po and Via Roma and end up in this square for the rally speech, as well as for political and work debates – mainly so in the 1960s and 1970s, after the well-known Hot Autumn.
The square used to be also a favorite of mass parties during election campaigns to meet constituencies.
A quite significant demonstration took place in this square in 1973 with the attendance of several foreign delegations in support of the Chilean resistance.
Recently, the square has been stage, besides socio-political events like ‘Se non ora quango’ (‘If not now, when?’), of religious events like the Pope’s visit in 2005, sports and cultural ones, incl. concerts and fairs.
Thus it can be said that this place represents the popular participation to the city’s political and cultural events: history often unwound here.