Is Turin Ready For Eurovision?

Protests and construction work have threatened to hamper preparations for Eurovision 2022, but Turin has shown before that it can deliver what’s needed in time for big events.

Turin, Italy’s fourth largest city, is just seventy days away from hosting the 66th edition of the Eurovision Song Contest. After Måneskin’s win in 2021 with the rock song Zitti e Buoni, the city was chosen among stiff competition from sixteen other Italian cities. Now the music festival is set to be broadcast to a global audience of two hundred million. But is Turin ready?

Is Turin ready to host Eurovision?

With two months to go until the song contest on May 10-14, the clock is ticking. And there have been signs that all might not be going smoothly.

“It’s necessary to work together with entrepreneurs and citizens to make Eurovision a great opportunity for them too,” the mayor of Rotterdam, Ahmed Aboutaleb, had said at the end of Eurovision 2021, encouraging a spirit of friendly collaboration between the city of Turin, local businesses, residents, and visitors. Yet the Italian city may not exactly be following his advice.

FederAlberghi Torino, the Hotels Association of Turin, and the trade union Ascom, for example, have criticized the Comune di Torino, the Turin city council, for what they see as the city’s failings to involve important stakeholders in the tourist industry in their Eurovision plans.

What’s more, posts on social media recently complained about the difficulties of finding hotel rooms, thanks in large part to stratospheric price hikes for hotel rooms for the period. According to an article in Mole 24, it’s normal for double rooms to be going at  €2,000 a night. But the president of FederAlberghi Torino defended the price spike, arguing that it falls within the parameters communicated by the comune.

However, a push to accommodate delegates has led to some hotels cancelling reservations for some private tourists, leading to disgruntled fans lamenting the fact that trying to find a hotel room in Turin during Eurovision is nigh on impossible. So much for everyone working together.

Yet there’s optimism. Martin Österdahl, Eurovision Song Contest Executive Supervisor, seems to think Turin is now ready. “Turin is the perfect Host City for the 66th Eurovision Song Contest,” he said. “We have been very impressed with the enthusiasm and commitment from the City of Turin who will welcome thousands of fans.”

Already, it has been reported that fans from thirty-nine nations will come to the city to see Eurovision, with the highest numbers of bookings registered in hotels and on AirBnb from fans in Spain, France, and the UK.

Stage designer Francesca Montinaro with a model of the new Eurovision stage. Photo: EBU/Francesca Montinaro.

Pala Olimpico a venue fit for Eurovision

One of the reasons Turin’s bid won over other Italian cities is because the city is home to Pala Olimpico, Italy’s largest indoor arena. In Österdahl’s words, “Pala Olimpico exceeds all the requirements needed to stage a global event of this scale.”

The 18,500-audience capacity arena — aka Pala Alpitour and Pala Sport — was built in 2005 for the 2006 Winter Olympics. Also locally known as Pala Isozaki, after its Japanese architect namesake Arata Isozaki, the venue has been host to the ATP Davis Cup tennis finals last November, as well as international artists such as Madonna, Shakira, Lady Gaga, Green Day, and Cirque du Soleil.

The highly anticipated stage set for Eurovision, designed by set designer Francesca Montinaro, creator of ‘The Ripped Backdrop’ stage for Sanremo 2013 and ‘The Trampoline in the Clouds’ for the 2019 edition, also makes it sound like preparations are up to speed. Revealed earlier this month, it presents a bold Italian identity and attitude — or, in Montinaro’s words, it’s “rebellious, creative, welcoming, passionate, and intuitive.”

Inspired by the geography of the peninsula itself, the stage entitled ‘The Sun Within’ looks as if it is surrounded by the sea framed against a kinetic sun backdrop. The auditorium mimics the geometric design of an Italian garden where the sun becomes a symbolic portal of light and movement that transmits the sounds of euro tunes to the live audience.

Eurovision values for peace and a strong Europe

“The Eurovision Song Contest will be a great showcase for the city, and for Italy, an event that, in addition to music, underlines the core message of Europe. A Europe that we want united, strong and cohesive and stable in these complicated times,” said Stefano Lo Russo, Turin’s new mayor. “In addition to being the most important musical event in the world, it represents Europe and its values. Values of peace, equality and solidarity,” he added. Values, indeed, that explain why Russia, damaged by its government’s current war in Ukraine, has now been eliminated from the competition. Their contestant was due to perform in the first semi-final on May 10.

These are the same values that underpinned the preparations leading up to Turin’s hosting of the 2006 Winter Olympics. Then, Turin was beset with questions over whether it would be ready to host the 2006 Games on time. When you surveyed the building sites and infrastructural operations that dragged on half-finished for years, you wondered if it had bitten off more than it could chew. Piazza San Carlo and Piazza Vittorio Veneto in Turin’s city center existed under clouds of dust and rubble for what seemed like an eternity but, in the nick of time, they were transformed from exhaust fume-filled parks to gleaming café-filled piazzas fit for any European city.

This time, for Eurovision, it seems that Turin has everything covered well in advance. The infrastructure is already in place, and the only obstacle could have been covid — but it seems that, in that regard, the worst is behind us. Just last week, Italy’s prime minister Mario Draghi announced that the state of emergency that has been in place since 2020 will probably end on March 31. That means that anti-green pass protests that take place on a weekly basis in Piazza Castello will probably cease to happen, eliminating one less stress for the Turin municipality.

“It is a huge challenge to organize an international event in a moment such as this but we are optimistic,” Lo Russo said. “We trust and hope in the reduction of the effects of the pandemic and we will move heaven and earth to ensure that Eurovision is a large event that people can participate in and enjoy throughout the city. This is our objective.”

Eurovision Turin
Piazza Castello in Turin. Photo: EBU/ Città di Torino.

More headaches for the comune

Even so, there have been a few further headaches for the comune in the lead up to Eurovision. For example, there was the recent controversy around the working conditions of volunteers during Eurovision that triggered protests from Bauli in Piazza, a protest group that demonstrated peacefully in Italian piazzas in support of workers in the performing arts during the pandemic. Piazza Castello, at the heart of Turin, and where many of the city’s many protests take place was also earmarked to be at the heart of the public experience for Eurovision with the EuroVillage set up here.

But Lo Russo brushed off these concerns. “We have a tackled [problems] and looked for solutions without creating controversies. And we will continue like this. It would have been impossible not to have some problems. It is inevitable for such a complex machine, with so many organizational levels involved as this.”

An opportunity to improve the city

Yet the trouble doesn’t end there. The city in general needs some urgent maintenance. Palazzo Madama, for example, is crying out for construction work to its flamboyant baroque facade designed by Italian architect, Filippo Juvarra back in 1718-21. The once royal home to the queens of Savoy and now home to Turin’s Museum of Ancient Art (Museo Civico d’Arte Antica) is having trouble with the columns atop the facade of the Palazzo where the stonework is slowly crumbling and the row of statues lining the top are at risk. Work will begin soon but the fear is that the scaffolding will only be half finished before Eurovision so the public space for people to enjoy the Eurovision atmosphere called EuroVillage, that was earmarked for Piazza Castello, might be relocated to Parco Valentino or even Piazza San Carlo. Only time will tell.

“There are a few weeks left before it starts,” as Turin’s mayor has said. But in the meantime, there’s a European conference to organize and the annual Festival of Economics will also be held in Turin this year starting May 31. As the city emerges slowly from the pandemic, with a new Mayor in town and plenty to organize, it might sometimes seem that it will never come together smoothly.

But, despite some bumps along the way, Turin has shown before that it can deliver what’s needed in time for big events. As Lo Russo concludes, “There is certainly a massive organizational effort, but we are equipped to make Turin beautiful, and above all to make our city and country look good.”