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Whether the ancient city of Taurisia began as a Celtic or Ligurian settlement is unknown: it was destroyed by Hannibal in 218 BC. The Roman colony of Augusta Taurinorum was established here almost two centuries later. In succeeding years, Goths, Lombards and Franks tramped through the city. In 1563 the Savoys abandoned their old capital of Chambéry (now in France) to set up court in Turin, which shared the dynasty’s fortunes thereafter. The Savoys annexed Sardinia in 1720, but Napoleon virtually put an end to their power when he occupied Turin in 1798. Turin was occupied by Austria and Russia before Vittorio Emanuele I restored the House of Savoy and re-entered Turin in 1814. Nevertheless, Austria remained the true power throughout northern Italy until the Risorgimento (literally ‘the Resurgence’, referring to Italian unification) in 1861, when Turin became the nation’s inaugural capital. Its capital status lasted only until 1864, and the parliament had already moved to Florence by the time full-size chambers were completed.

Turin adapted quickly to its loss of political significance, becoming a centre for industrial production during the early 20th century. Giants such as Fiat lured hundreds of thousands of impoverished southern Italians to Turin and housed them in vast company-built and -owned suburbs. Fiat’s owners, the Agnelli family (who also happen to own the champion Juventus football club, Turin’s local newspaper and a large chunk of the national daily Corriere della Sera), remain one of Italy’s most powerful establishment forces. Fiat’s fortunes declined later in the 20th century, however, and only revived around a decade ago.

The highly successful 2006 Winter Olympics were a turning point for the city. The Olympics not only ushered in a building boom, including a brand-new metro system, but transformed Turin from a staid industrial centre into a vibrant metropolis. Turin was scheduled to again step into the spotlight in 2008, as the European Capital of Design, hosting conferences and exhibitions. Preparations are now under way for 2011, when it will be the focus of the nation while hosting the 150th anniversary of the Risorgimento.