There’s a wonderful legend that near the site where the Castello del Valentino now stands, on the banks of the Po river in Turin, there was once a chapel that housed relics of the martyr Valentino. Whatever the origins, the tradition of holding dances in the Park seems to have been closely linked to the feast day of 14 February.
The castle itself was rebuilt and extended between 1630 and 1660 by Madama Cristina of France, Duchess of Savoy and by then the widow of Vittorio Amedeo I (who died in 1637). Its high pitched slated roofs are strongly reminiscent of the palaces in her native city, and the horse-shoe courtyard was a cross between the Louvre and a chateau on the Loire. In fact, Degas was very taken by the palace when he visited in 1860, and wrote:
“Tell me if this isn’t the palace of a widow, sad after a brilliant youth, who often regarded the snow-covered Alps separating her from France.”
However, Cristina was far from the “sad widow” that Degas imagined and the Castle was renowned for the extravagant festivities and luxurious celebrations held by Madama Cristina and also by her son Carlo Emanuele II. Carlo Emanuele officially came of age in 1648, but in practice Cristina continued to dominate him until her death in 1663.
The surrounding park, now known as Parco del Valentino, was re-designed in the 18th century.