16 OCTOBER 2007

Italy's equivalent of the Palace of Versailles has been opened to the public after an eight-year-long, £140-million restoration project. The Royal Palace of Venaria in Turin, which had fallen into disrepair, is a former home of the Savoy dynasty, who ruled Italy until 1946, and was built in the 17th century as a magnificent hunting lodge and summer residence.

Among the dignitaries invited to the re-opening of the UNESCO World Heritage Site were the descendants of its original owners. Emanuele Filiberto of Savoy, the grandson of Italy's last king, was one of the first to enter the palace.

"I am thrilled to see Venaria returned to its former glory, and I'm happy it's opening its doors to all Italians, so they can discover a piece of national history," he said. Joining him was his 70-year-old father Vittorio Emanuele and mother, Swiss biscuit heiress and former ski champion Marina Doria.

Two hundred acres of gardens, which had turned into marshland, have also been restored to their former glory, as have 860,000 square feet of pavilions filled with frescoes and paintings.

Photo: ©
Descendants of Italy's former royal family, Vittorio Emanuele, his wife Marina, and their son Emanuele Filiberto, were all on hand for the grand opening of the renovated palace in TurinPhoto: © Rex
Photo: ©
Switzerland-based hedge-fund manager Emanuele first set foot in Italy in 2002 after the Italian constitution - which had previously barred male descendants of the House of Savoy from entering the country - was amended. He has since appeared on Italian TV in olive commercials and football discussion programmesPhoto: © Rex