27 October 2016 11:01:38 IST

Guardians of Turin’s Cavallerizza Reale

It was built around 300 years ago as a military academy for senior officers

Bodies sway as a band beats out a rhythm in a corner of a 300-year-old courtyard in Turin’s Cavallerizza Reale, part of a round-the-clock occupation staged to stop the building falling into the hands of developers.

Elsewhere, activists set up art installations, prepare meals and care for a colony of bees in the former military academy and royal stables earmarked for luxury flats.

The campaigners moved into the city-centre landmark more than two years ago and slowly transformed it into a community centre come gallery come sit-in protest. There is a working darkroom, performance spaces and beds where visitors can stay for up to three nights for free.

“We felt called to the protection of a public good, a place destined for a sad end,” said Diego di Caro, a member of the “Assemblea Cavallerizza 14:45” occupation group — named after the building’s broken 18th century clock, stuck for ever at a quarter to three.

“We interpreted our role as that of civil servants, simple guardians who invited everyone to participate,” he said.

The monumental brick building had already gone through a series of transformations before the protesters moved in.

It was built around 300 years ago as a military academy for senior officers from the royal House of Savoy. Since then, its crumbling courtyards have also been a police parking area, housing for civil servants and a stage for theatre and movie productions.

The then city authorities agreed to sell it off in 2009, triggering the mounting protest movement.

Every day, students, artists and associations organise yoga, theatre, dance and music sessions, debates, concerts and parties in the structure, named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997 as part of the Residences of the House of Savoy.

“Each time we call, the Assembly receives a bigger response from the public, a process that should not be stopped but only accelerated,” said Diego di Caro.

Assembly members are working on a plan to restore the building and turn it into a permanent cultural centre, and these days they are getting a more sympathetic hearing from the city authorities.

Turin’s administration was taken over in June by the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement, which says it also wants to work out a way to keep the Cavallerizza Reale under public management.

“We would like to open a participatory management plan of the property. But it’s not such a simple path. There is a lack of resources,” said Guido Montanari, deputy mayor of Turin and professor of history of contemporary architecture at Turin Politecnico.

“We want to come back to a public management of the asset with the citizens, not only the current occupiers.”