With vaccinations well underway in most countries of the world, there is some hope that the tourist season of this year may not go down the drain – and that making travel plans may not be completely futile. For those with an affinity for the riskier things in life, like playing a game with a real-money stake, a trip to a casino might just be the perfect travel plan for 2021. Not for the games, mind you. Gaming outlets like JackpotCity offer a more than sufficient variety of those, often far exceeding what their land-based counterparts have to offer – not to mention the fact that the JackpotCity and its likes are immune (sic!) to pandemic-related lockdowns. But real-life casinos have their charm – and some of them have a hefty dose of history among their walls. Here are some that combine architecture, art, and gaming in a truly unique and attractive way.
Ca’Vendramin Calergi – Casinó di Venezia, Venice, Italy
Venice is the place that came up with the idea of organized gambling back in the 17th century – and it also has the casino housed in the oldest building in the world: a magnificent palazzo with direct access to the Grand Canal called Ca’Vendramin Calergi.
The palace was designed by Mauro Codussi, an architect who built several of Venice’s notable churches and residences, and was finished in just 28 years, quickly by the time’s standards. Over the centuries, the building was inhabited by nobles and artists, crowned heads and merchants, with composer Richard Wagner being one of its most noteworthy tenants – he stayed in the palace on the day of his passing. His memory is honoured by a museum dedicated to his life and work.
The City Council of Venice purchased the palazzo in 1946 and turned it into the winter home of the famous Venice Casino in 1959, a role it plays to this day.
Casino Spå, Spå, Belgium
Spå is a Belgian town in the country’s Liège province, famous for its cold springs with healing properties, responsible for the term “spa” which means “a place with waters that have healing properties”. It is one of Belgium’s most popular tourist destinations not only for its miraculous waters but also for its Formula One circuit.
While the Venice Casino is the one with the oldest home, Casino Spå is the oldest purpose-built gambling establishment. It was built in 1763, commissioned by two of the city’s mayors, to offer the local nobility – and later the numerous visitors – a luxurious set of services including ballrooms, theatres, and, of course, a casino.
Over the years, the building burned twice, and was hit by everything from prohibitions and World Wars – but it was always rebuilt. The latest restoration project, completed in 1981, restored the building to its former glory.
Wiesbaden Spielbank, Wiesbaden, Germany
Wiesbaden is one of Germany’s oldest and most popular spa towns, with a history of curative baths going back centuries – even the Romans knew its miraculous waters. The first spa house in the city was built in 1810 – it was a relatively modest building that has proven too small for the growing number of visitors coming to the then small town over the years.
Between 1905 and 1907, a much bigger and much more magnificent spa house was built to include concert halls, conference rooms, beer and wine halls, and one of the most beautiful casinos in Europe. Kaiser Wilhelm II was a returning visitor to the Wiesbaden Kurhaus, and financed its reconstruction – he called it “the most beautiful spa building in the world”.