The Mole Antonelliana, the domed and spired building that dominates the skyline in Turin, Italy, has become the iconic image of the 2006 Winter Olympics. A stylized version of the building appears above the five Olympic rings to form the current Olympic logo. Though one might not guess it from its looks, the 530-foot-tall structure — an exuberant cross between classical and Far Eastern architecture — has a Jewish past.
The building was originally designed, with a modest dome, as a synagogue in 1863. It was a heady time, both for Turin and its Jews. The city was the capital of the newly unified Italy, and non-Catholics had just been granted religious freedom. The times were perhaps too heady for architect Alessandro Antonelli, who began to propose ever larger and more extravagant designs for the synagogue. After 10 years, the congregation ran out of patience (and money) and gave the building to the city of Turin in exchange for a new piece of land. In 1889, 26 years after he began his work, Antonelli finally finished the building (which came to be called ‘”Antonelli’s Mass”). The city of Turin dedicated the edifice to national hero and Turin native King Victor Emmanuel II, and the building served as the head office for the National Museum of the Italian Independence. Today it serves as the home for the National Cinema Museum and offers panoramic views from its roof of the surrounding city.