Constructed between 1905-1906, the Casino of San Pellegrino Terme in Italy’s northern Lombardy region took only 20 months from start to finish. This magnificent monster of opulence and sophistication is the brainchild of the architect Romolo Squadrelli and engineer Luigi Mazocchi, who took the Monte Carlo Casino as the model for their creation. The architectural style is quintessentially Liberty—an Italian take on Art Nouveau, which dominated Europe at the time.
Even from the outside, the building exudes luxury through an overload of stucco, bas-reliefs, and wrought iron decorations, including the not-too-subtle phallus-shaped ornamentation at the center of the building’s roof. Each detail was carefully designed and executed to deliver a message of merriment, levity, and optimism.
For example, the fauns over the three main doors symbolize peace and fertility. The four figures portrayed directly under the towers are composers, calling to mind music and entertainment. And the flying deer frescoes above the windows are supposed to bring good fortune.
Upon entering, carved wood adorns the walls, and the Venetian-sieved floor draws intricate floral patterns. The entrance hall, like the rest of the building, is dominated by elaborate wrought iron chandeliers designed by Squadrelli.
The main staircase is simply astounding, combining stuccoes, bas-reliefs, frescoes, friezes, statues, chandeliers, and stained-glass windows. Once again, floral patterns dominate the decoration, but a running theme throughout the building is also water. Scantily dressed female statues are shown in an obvious state of inebriation. Other female statues are trying to escape the clutches of lustful men.
The casino remained open between 1907 and 1917, attracting the rich and famous. It is unclear whether people were coming to San Pellegrino Terme for the sanatorium and patronized the casino next door because of its proximity, or whether their main intention was to gamble and they were using the sanatorium as an excuse to come to San Pellegrino Terme.
Local clergy considered the casino’s propagation of gambling, drunkenness, and sex morally reprehensible and voiced their concerns in the local newspapers. The casino was reopened a few years later, but Mussolini ordered it shut in 1924. It reopened once again in 1946, but after a few months, it closed again. Left abandoned for decades, restoration work started in 2010 and ended in 2014.
A little piece of trivia: What do The Sopranos, Sex and the City, Ocean’s Twelve, and La Dolce Vita have in common? San Pellegrino water features in all of them. And what’s on the label of San Pellegrino bottles? The Casino of San Pellegrino Terme.
Know Before You Go
There are two ways one can visit the casino. Part of the structure is used as a spa, and guests of the spa are granted access to some sections of the casino. Alternatively, guided tours are organized on a weekly basis.