“In the past they had a party in this castle on St. Valentine’s Day, the 14th of February. Each lady would call the cavalier who attended to her, her Valentine. The name of the residence comes from that.”
– A. L. Millin, Voyage en Savoie, en Piémont, en Nice, et a Gènes, 2 vols. (Paris: Wassermann, 1816): I, 340.
This is just one of the romantic stories that attempt to explain the origin of the name of the Castello del Valentino in Turin (C. and A. di Castellamonte, 1620-1665). Another involves a beautiful lady of the court named Valentina (or Valenza) Balbiana who supposedly killed a stag there during a hunt, thus winning a prize from the duke and earning the right to lay the cornerstone for the villa bearing her name.
Marziano Bernardi* demonstrated that neither of these legends is true, and that the place name “Valentino” predates both stories and the building itself by several centuries. What is true: the Savoy court really celebrated Valentine’s Day there sometimes, Valentina Balbiana really existed (her tomb is in the Louvre), and the place name is really associated with devotion to Saint Valentine, the early Christian martyr whose feast day is celebrated on 14 February. Like the image of the castle above, which also embellishes the truth, the popular legends spin simple fact into more impressive and entertaining fiction.
Untangling such stories keeps historians in business, but for everyone else on Valentine’s Day: se non è vero, è ben trovato.
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*Marziano Bernardi, Il castello del Valentino (Società editrice torinese, 1949): 76-85.
Image: Valentinum, from Camillo Maria Audiberti,Regiae villae poetice descriptae (Turin, 1711)
Source: Internet Archive | archive.org