The Circolo Pattinatori Valentino Torino

Reproduction of Carlo Stratta's 1887 painting "Skaters in Valentino Park"

Mamma mia! Pour yourself a nice, refreshing glass of Pinot Grigio because we're going way back to the nineteenth century today to take a look at the first skating club in Italy - the Circolo Pattinatori Valentino Torino in Turin, Italy.

According to skating lore, it's been suggested that it was actually Canadian visitors that first got the Italians interested in figure skating. We do know that the sport became fashionable in the city of Turin in the 1860's and by 1872, interest was sufficient that the idea of forming a skating club in the Parco de Valentino was conceived. The Parco de Valentino was originally part of a parcel of land owned by the House Of Savoy-Carignano.

Michela Damasco's 2010 article "Torino balla sul ghiaccio" noted that it was "a certain Mr. Weber, a Swiss skating master who, when confronted with a frozen pond in the park, had the brilliant idea of creating a real skating school. [He was] a charismatic person with extensive experience acquired in his wanderings between Austria and Sweden. He acquired in a short time [the support of] the aristocracy of Turin who observed with amazement his twirls." In 1873, the city designated a large lawn in the Parco de Valentino for skating and the following year the Circolo Pattinatori Valentino Torino was formed by thirty skaters. Among the founders were Count Marchetti of Murialdo and the Club's first President, Count Ernesto di Sambuy, who also served as Mayor of Turin from 1883 to 1886. In no time flat, spectators were flocking to the rink in droves to see what all the fuss was about. On January 12, 1874, the "Journal Piemontese" noted, "The ice skaters in the Parco Valentino continue to draw in a huge number of spectators and [many] skaters; Yesterday you could say that half Turin [came]. Beautiful is the chosen [art] and full of interest is the [following of] the developments [of these] daring young men and ladies who give themselves to this difficult and attractive exercise." Skaters became enthralled with the practice of school figures and barrel jumping, as in North America at the time, was a happening thing. Count Marchetti of Murialdo even, according to writer Ada Guglielmino, would spread milk and water on the ice to give it a "romantic whiteness".

Figure skating captured the imagination of Turin's upper crust in particular and membership in the Circolo Pattinatori Valentino Torino skyrocketed from thirty to eight hundred. The Duke Of Genoa, Thomas Of Savoy was appointed the club's honorary president and Crown Prince Umberto II of the House Of Savoy-Carignano, the Duchess of Aosta Elena d'Orleans and Princess Mary Adelaide Bona Savoy-Genoa all became members. In 1878, a wooden chalet was constructed for members beside the rink where skaters were served refreshments and an orchestra accompanied skaters. On January 23, 1887, a 'festival of ice' was held and by the late nineteenth century, the club's membership was so great that it was forced to refuse the entry of new members as the ice was simply getting too overcrowded.

Centennial medal of the Circolo Pattinatori Valentino Torino

In 1900, an artificial pond was constructed to replace the original rink. The club's organizers teamed up with the local gymnastics society of using the area exclusively for teaching skating in the winter and gymnastics in the warmer months to both members and pupils in public schools. In 1908, the rink even played host to the first recorded hockey game in Italy.

In 1915, a historic first competition for both singles and pairs figure skaters and speed skaters was organized by the club. Many great Italian figure skating champions came from the club's membership from the twenties through the sixties including Count Alberto Bonacossa, Dina Mancio and Gaspare Voli, Sergio Bellé and Sergio Brosio. In 1933, the artificial pond was drained and replaced with another rink, which was demolished in 1958 to make way for halls needed for the Torino Esposizioni. Although not in their original home, the Circolo Pattinatori Valentino Torino has remained active in the twenty first century.

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating. Over ten years, the blog has featured over a thousand free articles covering all aspects of the sport's history, as well as four compelling in-depth features. To read the latest articles, follow the blog on FacebookTwitterPinterest and YouTube. If you enjoy Skate Guard, please show your support for this archive by ordering a copy of the figure skating reference books "The Almanac of Canadian Figure Skating", "Technical Merit: A History of Figure Skating Jumps" and "A Bibliography of Figure Skating":