The Italian Riviera, in the country’s north-west close to the French border, has long enjoyed the status of a glamorous travel destination for holidaymakers seeking to savour the luxurious opulence of the region’s picturesque towns and villages.
Today, thousands of people flock to the Riviera every year.
Many people who come to the Riviera choose to visit one of its many casinos, such as San Remo. Even people who aren’t partial to the occasional flutter love to soak up the lavish ambience of the San Remo casino and immerse themselves in the buzz of a lively casino floor. Italy’s relationship with gaming dates back to antiquity, and the Roman emperor Claudius played a dice game that was the precursor to the modern casino game craps.
Indeed, Italy in general would make a fascinating travel destination for anyone interested in the history and origins of the modern casino as the country is widely acknowledged as the birth-place of the first gaming clubs. The Ridotto, a public gaming house located in Venice which opened its doors to the public in 1638, is widely recognized as being the first establishment of its kind. The name itself comes from the Italian ridurre meaning to close off or make private, and the term ridotto had long been used to describe the exclusive spaces behind theatres which were frequented by members of Italian high-society. Here is where they would indulge in dancing, gaming and impromptu theatre. It was common for all those present to wear masks to preserve their anonymity.
The Ridotto was shut down in 1774, but the Italian people now had a taste for casino culture and it wasn’t long before similar establishments began popping up in other parts of the country. In contrast to the model used for the original Ridotto in Venice, these new proto-casinos were open to members only. Although, given the high-stakes played for in the Ridotto, only affluent people with large amounts of disposable income could afford to play there and the place was, effectively, open only to members of high-society.
The new casino model continued to thrive during the 19th century and casinos proliferated all over Italy. The San Remo casino, which is considered to be the Riviera’s flag-ship casino and is often referred to as “Italy’s Monte Carlo,” opened its doors on January 12, 1905. There was hope that, with the right development strategies, the Italian Riviera could become the rival to the French Riviera in terms of its appeal to well-off tourists as a holiday or summering destination. Gaming was one element that would draw them in.
This desire to compete with the French is reflected in the building’s Art Nouveau architecture: French architect Eugene Ferret designed the building in accordance with the aesthetic values of the Art Nouveau movement which was, at the time, considered the height of refinement in visual aesthetics. The San Remo casino was Italy’s answer to other iconic casinos such as those found in Cannes and Saigon.
Equipped with a stunning casino and hotel, the Italian Riviera was now ready to emerge as a travel destination that could attract the very highest class of holidaymakers and compete with the likes of Monaco and Milan. The San Remo casino flourished throughout the 1930s, at a time when other gaming houses were going through difficulties. The casino had to close its doors in 1940 due to World War II, but reopened within a few months of the declaration of peace and has been prospering ever since.
Today, the town of San Remo is known as a cultural hub and hosts the Festival della Canzone Italiana (Festival of Italian Songwriting), one of the highlights of the Italian cultural calendar. The San Remo casino never forgot the Ridotto’s theatrical origins and has remained loyal to the spirit of the casino as a space for culture and artistic expression. The theatre at San Remo has its own resident symphonic orchestra and has hosted various artistic and cultural exhibitions over the years, featuring works from the likes of Salvador Dali and Aligi Sassu. If author Luigi Pirandello, San Remo’s legendary cultural director during the 1930s, could see his legacy being so well maintained, he would undoubtedly be incredibly proud.