A tangible excitement fills the glass elevator as it glides upward through the grand atrium of the National Museum of Cinema, Italy. The view is spectacular and in every way cinematic. On the way up toward the cupola and its 85-meter-high panoramic observation deck, patterns of stars and geometric designs play on the inside of the vaulted dome, flashed from projectors on the atrium floor below.
Located in the historic center of Turin, Italy, the Mole Antonelliana at a height of 167 meters is billed as the tallest museum in the world. Long considered a symbol of Turin, the Mole now has a new claim to fame as the world’s only museum dedicated to the history of the “seventh art” – cinema.
With more than 3,200 square meters of floor space spread among five floors, the museum recreates the spectacular feel of a movie set. Exhibits detail the behind-the-scenes facets of filmmaking, such as lighting and sound, costumes and the cameras used to capture the fleeting grace of the stars of the silver screen. The silver screen itself is well represented by more than three dozen examples strategically placed throughout the museum, showing snippets and scenes from a host of the world’s most celebrated films.
Architect Alessandro Antonelli designed the Mole Antonelliana in 1863 under commission by the Jewish community to create a synagogue. But, the Mole was left unfinished due to a lack of funds and when the money ran out in 1877 Turin’s Jewish community donated the unfinished building to the city, which eventually completed the building in 1900.
Over the years, the Mole hosted various temporary exhibitions and was formerly used as the National Museum of the Risorgimento. Finally, in May 1996, the city of Turin decided to allow the National Museum of Cinema to take over the building and began a massive rehabilitation project directed by famed Swiss architect FranÃ?Â§ois Confino. Since then the building has undergone significant renewal, including the addition of fortifying concrete beams to shore up the Mole’s gigantic spire and the addition of an elevator and a panoramic observation deck atop the building in 1961 to celebrate the hundredth anniversary of the Italian unification.
Visitors to the museum begin their journey with an exhibit exploring the archaeology of film. Visitors walk through exhibits and objects detailing the various inventions that led to the creation of the moving picture, as we know it today. From the camera obscura to a wonderful collection of magic lanterns, the Mole provides the opportunity to discover the birth of photography, stereoscopy and other early attempts to simulate realistic movement that eventually led to the birth of the silent film. Turin’s history is intertwined with that of the silent film. The city was the capital of Italy’s movie-making industry until the 1930s, when dictator Benito Mussolini moved all film production to Rome after he created CinecittÃ?Â , the Italian equivalent of Hollywood. The museum’s permanent collection contains hundreds of early silent films including movies made in Turin. Most were realized by Itala Film and Ambrosio between 1910 and 1930, two of the city’s most prolific production houses.