Siege of Turin

Orfeas Katsoulis | Jan 13, 2023

Table of Content


The siege of Turin took place in 1706 during the War of the Spanish Succession. More than 44,000 French soldiers encircled the fortified citadel of Turin defended by some 10,500 Savoy soldiers who fought strenuously from May 14 until September 7, when the army that arrived to defend the city commanded by Prince Eugene and Duke Victor Amadeus II forced the enemies into a precipitous retreat.

The siege lasted one hundred and seventeen days; at the conclusion of the war, with the signing of the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713 and Rastadt the following year, Victor Amadeus II, Duke of Savoy, became the first king of his dynasty.

Because of the significant size and importance of the city (one of the very few capitals in Europe to which a scientifically studied siege has ever been laid), it had great international resonance.

Some historians consider the siege of Turin the event that marks the beginning of the Risorgimento.


In the year 1700 Charles II of Habsburg, king of Spain, died without descendants. Already for some years, however, the sovereign's health, which had never been good, had deteriorated, portending the worst. The European monarchies, well aware of the situation, initiated complex diplomatic activity over the succession.

In particular, Louis XIV of France, of the Bourbon dynasty of France, and Emperor Leopold I, of the Habsburg dynasty, were mobilized: the former because he had married Maria Theresa, the first-bed daughter of Philip IV of Spain and half-sister of Charles, and the latter because he had married Margaret Theresa, sister of Charles, that is, second-bed daughter of Philip IV.

What was actually at stake was control of Spain and its possessions in Europe and across the Atlantic. In addition, the Habsburgs of Austria were making claims as they belonged to the same dynasty that had hitherto ruled Spain.

Undecided on what to do, Charles II sought advice from the Pontiff, who, in order to prevent that with Spain in the hands of the Habsburgs the same concentration of power that had occurred with Charles V some two centuries earlier would be recreated, thought well of advising the Spanish sovereign to designate a Frenchman as his successor. Charles II accepted the advice and designated Philip of Bourbon, nephew of Louis XIV, as his successor.

At the opening of the will it was inevitable that conflict would break out, as the new Spain-France alliance was destined to subvert the European balance. The conflict that followed is known as the War of the Spanish Succession and lasted for over ten years, ending with the Treaties of Utrecht (1713) and Rastadt (1714).

The conflict saw England, the Habsburg Empire, Portugal, Denmark and the Netherlands on one side; on the other side France and Spain, which had accepted the new Bourbon king. The Duchy of Savoy was located between France and the Milanese, which was in the hands of Spain and constituted the natural connecting corridor between the two allies, so Louis XIV almost forced Duke Victor Amadeus II to ally with the Franco-Hispanics for obvious strategic needs.

Victor Amadeus II, supported by his cousin Eugene of Savoy-Carignano, count of Soissons and grand commander of the imperial troops, had the intuition that this time the main game between France and the Empire was to be played in Italy and no longer in Flanders or Lorraine. On the basis of this conviction he formed an alliance with the Habsburgs, the only ones who, in the event of a victorious outcome of the conflict, could guarantee the complete independence of the Savoy state.

In fact, an alliance with France, in the event of the latter's victory, would only have accentuated the Savoy's state of subservience, which had lasted for about a century, while the Emperor promised Monferrato, part of Lomellina and Valsesia, Vigevanasco and a part of the province of Novara. It was a skillful, intelligent but also risky choice, for in case of defeat the Savoy State would be annihilated and wiped out along with its dynasty.

The choice of field made by Victor Amadeus II of Savoy in the fall of 1703 (Treaty of Turin) prompted Louis XIV to initiate war operations that had Savoy and then Piedmont as their theater.

The Citadel

Squeezed between two fires (to the west France and to the east the Spanish army that controlled Lombardy), the Savoy lands were surrounded and attacked by three armies; having lost Susa, Vercelli, Chivasso, Ivrea and Nice (1704), only the Citadel of Turin, a fortification erected by Duke Emanuele Filiberto I of Savoy about one hundred and forty years earlier, that is, around the middle of the 16th century, remained to hold out.

Important was the role of the counter-mine tunnels, dug below the citadel's ramparts, in which the artillery battalion's miners company, consisting of 2 officers, 2 sergeants, 3 corporals and 46 miners with, in support, 350 laborers (diggers) and 6 guards, ensured the control of the underground and the placement of explosive charges intended to ruin the work of the besiegers. The depth of the tunnels, arranged on two levels, reached almost fourteen meters, just above the groundwater.

Of particular importance within the citadel was the cistern, a circular building located in the center of the parade ground. This well ensured throughout the period a constant supply of water that took its supply from the water table below, an aspect of no small importance in a siege situation. Measuring an impressive 20 meters in diameter, it emerged two stories above the ground and then descended 22 meters to the water table reached by a wide helical ramp, its design unmatched by any other European fortress.

Citizens knew how to carefully prepare themselves for the siege. Food was supplied from the stockpiled supplies, from the small city gardens or even from Porta Po; water came from the wells. The farmsteads of the Turin plain (especially in Vanchiglia) played a key role in food supply.

It was from August that the situation began to deteriorate, when the French closed the country roads and intercepted ammunition supplies arriving by river. The municipality decided to help the starving but, together with other war expenses, the siege was coming to cost 450,000 liras a month (one lira corresponded to a craftsman's daily wage), a huge sum.

The municipality had to sell land and incur debts to find the money. Fear of bombs, which targeted the city, caused the effigy of the Consolata to be placed on the doors of houses, hoping for the virgin's protection. Catholic and Lutheran regiments also wore Mary's image on their hats.

It was precisely the frequent use by the French of incendiary bombs (the so-called boulets-rouges) that claimed the most victims among the civilian population. It is estimated that during the siege period, Franco-Spanish troops dropped 95,000 cannonballs, 21,000 bombs and 27,700 grenades on the city of Turin.

Public order in the city was ensured by the constant presence of the militia and police, who were assigned numerous tasks. First, they were charged with overseeing the entire system of extinguishing the frequent fires that developed as a result of the enemy's attacks and the suppression of looting attempts. Special attention was also given to the control of foreigners in the city, who in order to enter had to register and lay down any weapon except the sword.

The underground defense of fortresses and castles, used from the earliest times, experienced new impetus and systematization after the fall of Famagusta in 1571 and, above all, after the long siege of Candia, concluded in 1689, operations conducted by Ottoman forces that made extensive use of underground attacks.

As early as 1572 Emanuele Filiberto ordered the construction of the casemate called Pastiss, equipped with its own counter-mine gallery, to defend the San Lazzaro bastion of the Citadel. However, it was not until the months before the French attack in 1706 that an extensive and extensive counter-mine system, designed by Antonio Bertola, was actually constructed under the ramparts and main works of the citadel and urban defenses.

As already mentioned, for water supplies the Citadel was equipped with the Cisternone, a huge well (whose shape was reminiscent of St. Patrick's) thanks to which the military stronghold could be said to be endowed with a practically perennial source of water. These war measures, which had grown larger over the years, had made Turin one of the best defended cities in Europe.

As early as August 1705, Franco-Spanish armies were ready to attack Turin, stationed in the vicinity of the Citadel, but the commander-General Duc de la Feuillade felt that the men available were still too few and preferred to wait for reinforcements.

This choice turned out to be a mistake, because it gave the city a way to fortify itself further up the hill and at the same time to tighten around its Citadel in preparation for a long siege.

The work of fortifying the Citadel lasted throughout the winter at the turn of 1705-1706, and much of the city's population contributed to it. The main work consisted of building the rampart around the stronghold, which allowed better security for the riflemen. In addition, an intensive and dense network of tunnels and galleries was built, which was unmatched by any other European stronghold at the time. The work was planned by lawyer Antonio Bertola, who, having left the legal profession, was put in charge of the Savoy military engineers.

To prepare for the impending siege, city authorities established the garrison of the Turin stronghold, which included more than 10,000 men divided into 14 imperial and 14 Piedmontese battalions, cavalry units, cannoneers and miners.

The siege

It began on May 14 when Franco-Spanish troops (now consisting of over forty thousand men) strategically stationed themselves in front of the fortress. Two days earlier was the total solar eclipse of May 12, 1706, which at 10:15 a.m. obscured the celestial vault, making the Taurus constellation stand out. The Sun was quintessentially the symbol of Louis XIV (known as the Sun King), and this event gave great impetus to the spirits of the people of Turin, who imagined an easy victory. The astronomical event is recalled by some lines in the Piedmontese-language poem L'Arpa Discordata, written in the years following the siege:

Marshal of France Sébastien Le Prestre de Vauban, an expert deviser of siege techniques, would have preferred a lateral attack on the city, deeming the dense network of counter-mine tunnels prepared by the besieged a treacherous obstacle; but de La Feuillade disregarded him by having forty-eight military engineers prepare the digging of numerous trench lines.

Marshal Vauban did not physically participate in the siege of Turin, although he took a personal interest in it. In 1705 he had been commissioned by Louis XIV to draw up a plan for the conquest of the city, which he knew was very well defended. In July 1706 he was in Dunkirk, from where he wrote a letter on the 23rd disapproving of the approach decided upon by the besieging General La Feuillade. His participation, apart from the previous year's draft, was thus a participation by correspondence. What for Vauban was a dangerous "mine loophole" would in fact prove fatal.

For their part, the besieged, supported by the population (who participated directly in the battle) and strengthened by the dense network of tunnels so feared by Vauban, inflicted numerous losses on the enemy army. The battle went on throughout the summer of 1706.

On June 8, the Duke of Feuillade sent a messenger to Victor Amadeus in which the duke was offered the opportunity to leave Turin freely to escape the bombs. King Louis had given orders that the enemy ruler's life should not be endangered, but the latter also refused to give the location of his apartments so that they would not be bombed: "My quarters are where the battle is most furious," he would reply.

However, the duke had no intention of staying in the city for long: on June 17 Victor Amadeus II left Turin at the head of 4,000 cavalrymen, initiating a long series of guerrilla actions in lower Piedmont aimed at diverting as many troops as possible from the siege of the capital. Effectively La Feuillade, having left command of siege operations to General Chamarande, launched himself in pursuit with nearly 10 000 men until the Duke of Savoy took refuge in the valleys occupied by the Waldensians. Considering the risks of engaging the enemy in hostile territory well known to them to be excessive, the duke de la Feuillade returned to camp in front of Turin on July 20.

Following the duke's sortie from Turin, command of the military square had passed to Imperial General Virich von Daun, a close associate of Prince Eugene. Siege operations went ahead, however, bringing the besiegers close to the crescent of the Soccorso, which protected one of the entrances to the Citadel. Meanwhile, the city was subjected to a very harsh and continuous artillery bombardment.

Soon black powder began to run out in the city as a result of the total blockade of supplies from outside, and before long the Piedmontese artillery had to limit their firing so as not to consume too much.

Among the main objectives of the French was to unearth the entrance to a burrow in order to penetrate it en masse. The operation did not prove easy: between August 13 and 14 an entrance was discovered, and the besiegers penetrated it after heavy losses. All seemed already lost, but the Piedmontese resorted to blowing up the burrow, burying the enemies.

Ten days later the French launched into a bloody attack on the Crescent of Relief, strong with 38 companies of grenadiers. The Piedmontese also defended themselves using flammable material. In the end, victory belonged to the Turinese, who forced the enemy to retreat again, but over 400 casualties were left on the field on the Savoy side alone.

It is at this point that the famous episode of Pietro Micca, who sacrificed his life to curb yet another French attack in the underground tunnels, takes place. The situation seemed destined to precipitate for the Piedmontese, so much so that the Duke of Orléans, captain of Louis XIV's army, had arrived in Turin and wanted to deliver the coup de grace.

The besiegers, however, knew that time was short, as since May the duke's cousin, Prince Eugene of Savoy, commander-in-chief of the imperial troops, after some victorious battles against the Franco-Spaniards, had been marching at the head of a relief army of about 20,000 men to Turin.

When the imperial army was already in Piedmont by the end of August, Prince Eugene at the head of the vanguard reached Villastellone, near the Savoy capital. There he made camp for his exhausted soldiers and went to meet his cousin Victor Amadeus on the night of the 29th..

The battle

On September 2, the two Savoyards climbed the hill of Superga, overlooking the entire city, to study counteroffensive tactics and decided to outflank the enemy by employing the bulk of the army and part of the cavalry toward the northwest area of the city, the most vulnerable, even though this posed a great risk due to the proximity of the French lines.

These, for their part, could do nothing but feverishly try to lock themselves in their own trenches; the arrival of a relief force of such proportions clearly caught them unprepared. Eugene expressed himself contemptuously:

On September 5 in Pianezza one of the convoys headed for the French camp was intercepted by the imperial cavalry. Thanks to Maria Bricca it was possible to sneak in there through a secret passage. This was a very important strategic success on the part of Prince Eugene of Savoy; the French would fight with rationed ammunition.

On September 6, the outflanking maneuver brought the Savoy troops into position between the Dora Riparia and Stura di Lanzo rivers. The final clash began on Sept. 7 when Austro-Piedmontese forces arranged themselves across the entire front and repelled any counteroffensive attempt by the Franco-Hispanics.

Prince Eugene's plan was to break through the French right wing, to be carried out through the disciplined Prussian infantry of Prince Leopold I of Anhalt-Dessau. The attack, on this side, was particularly bloody, and only on the fourth attempt were the Prussians able to overcome French resistance. In particular, the La Marine regiment, which was defending the French far right, found itself out of ammunition in the midst of the decisive attack and, with no reinforcements or supplies available, went on the rout.

At this point, after repelling the counterattack of the Orléans cavalry, victory was only a matter of time. The imperial cavalry was reorganized by Prince Eugene to finally destroy the opposing cavalry, an attack in which Victor Amadeus II also participated. Numerically outnumbered, the French were forced to flee to the Po bridges, abandoning the left wing to its fate.

The imperial forces of the center and right wing were tasked with keeping the opposing French troops engaged. An attempted attack succeeded in bringing about a temporary break in the Orléans front, which was forced to intervene with part of the cavalry to close the breach. In this action he was wounded and Marsin was shot dead. Lucentum, powerfully fortified and defended by two of the best French regiments, Piemont and Normandie, was never occupied by an assault, but was abandoned by the defenders after covering the retreat of the units covering the French center and left.


The French had lost about 6,000 men to the 3,000 Austro-Piedmontese. In the following days, nearly 7,700 Frenchmen still fell in clashes with the Savoyards or from their wounds.

Victor Amadeus II and Prince Eugene of Savoy entered the now liberated city through Porta Palazzo and went to the Cathedral to attend a Te Deum of thanksgiving. On the hill of Superga, in memory of the victory, the Savoy built the Basilica of the same name in which a Te Deum is still celebrated every September 7.

The artillery battalion that handled the defense of the Savoy city was established in 1696 and included 6 companies with 300 gunners. At the beginning of the siege, however, the battalion proved insufficient to handle all the weapons at its disposal and had to be supplemented with 200 "Knights" from the "Piedmont Royal Cavalry" regiment. As many men from "Royal Piedmont" and 700 Germanic cavalrymen were instead prepared to fulfill the night work of repairing enemy artillery damage.

Each of the 6 Savoy artillery companies consisted of 36 soldiers of whom 4 bombers, 1 drummer, 2 sergeants and 2 corporals. One company was, in addition, dedicated to the workers and one to the miners. The battalion had a chaplain and a surgeon. Artillery soldiers wore blue robes and breeches and a black tricorn hat.

Regarding weapons, an inventory from 1706, lists the following portable firearms stored in the Citadel Arsenal Armory:

To meet armament needs, new forges were set up alongside the foundry at the Turin Arsenal.

The Piedmontese infantry, on the other hand, was framed in 10 regiments, to which were added mercenary regiments mostly from France (Protestant volunteers from Provence and the Midi) and Switzerland. The equipment of a Savoy infantry soldier consisted of a belt fitted with a buckle from which hung a sword equipped with a brass hilt, a bayonet, a gibassier placed on the right flank, and a powder. Grenadiers instead of the gibasser had the grenadier and instead of the sword a saber.

Of the structure and quantity of the French armies there is little information. The number of Franco-Spanish artillery is unknown, but it is estimated with reasonable approximation that the formidable artillery of the besiegers may have numbered about 250 guns and 60 mortars. The French also made extensive use of so-called boulets-rouges, incendiary balls made of solid cast iron that were red-hot over hot coals and then hurled at the most fire-sensitive spots in the besieged city.

In memory of the battle, which so profoundly marked future Piedmontese history, pillars were left engraved with the date 1706 and an effigy of Our Lady of the Consolata (since the Consolata shrine was, almost miraculously, not damaged by the bombs). They were placed at the points where the clash was most bloody, and even today 23 surviving ones can be identified in various places.

Also in remembrance of the battle, a future neighborhood in Turin was named Borgata Vittoria and a church named after Mary was built there. In addition, there are numerous streets in the city center that commemorate, by their names, people who distinguished themselves in the battle: from Via Pietro Micca to Via Vittorio Amedeo II.

Major events were organized to celebrate the bicentennial and tricentennial of the Battle: in 1906, in a Turin that had by then become the industrial head of Italy, the task of commemorating the wartime episode was entrusted to Tommaso Villa, under the patronage of the city's mayor, Secondo Frola. For the occasion, historical conferences were organized, volumes were published, and monuments were inaugurated (including that of Leonardo Bistolfi, in front of the church of Madonna di Campagna, later destroyed by Allied bombing in World War II). The great attention placed around the event led to the declaration, on August 25 of the same year, of Pietro Micca's birthplace in Sagliano as a national heritage site.

On the occasion of the third centenary, in 2006, the battle was re-enacted through a major historical reconstruction, thanks to the intervention of figurants from historical associations from half of Europe: in memory of the event, a thematic exhibition was left usable by the public in the Mastio of the Citadel of Turin.

Around the siege of Turin and its major protagonists (Prince Eugene of Savoy, Victor Amadeus II, Pietro Micca) a vast and constant bibliographic production has flourished since the eighteenth century, including works of great collector's value, such as those, for example, concerning Eugenian battles accompanied by precious plates and sought after even individually.

The tricentennial, celebrated with remarkable intensity of initiatives during 2006


  1. Siege of Turin
  2. Assedio di Torino
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  4. ^ a b La battaglia di Torino, su URL consultato il 19 gennaio 2011 (archiviato dall'url originale il 12 gennaio 2009).
  5. ^ a b Gariglio, p. 13.
  6. ^ Gariglio, p. 14.
  7. ^ Lynn, p. 310 notează:Torino s-a dovedit a fi o victorie mai mare decât Ramillies, în esență Convenția din Milano din 13 septembrie 1706 a predat toată valea Po aliaților.
  8. Viganò, Marino (2004). El fratin mi ynginiero (en italiano). Edizioni Casagrande. ISBN 978-88-7713-418-9. Consultado el 6 de febrero de 2022.
  9. Marcos, David Martín (2011). El papado y la Guerra de Sucesión española. Marcial Pons Historia. ISBN 978-84-92820-54-2. Consultado el 18 de abril de 2022.
  10. ^ a b Clodfelter 2002, p. 73.
  11. ^ a b Tucker 2009, p. 702.
  12. ^ a b c d Norris 2015.
  13. ^ Tucker 2009, p. 703.
  14. ^ Somerset 2012, p. 168.

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