Constanta is the oldest city in Romania, beautifully situated on the Black Sea. It was founded around 600 BC and the Romans and Turks (Ottomans) in particular determined early history. The place has had several names. But it was, probably around 900, Constanta named after the sister of the Roman king Constantine the Great.
The old town was part of the Bulgarian Empire and other principalities for more than 500 years. After the Russian-Turkish war it was ceded to Romania by the Turks in 1878. Especially in the period that a casino fever started in Europe.
Casinos are being opened in several places in Europe. And according to the new ruler, prefect Remus Opreanu, the most beautiful place in Romania cannot be left behind. Shortly after the war there is only money for a wooden building. Henri Guaracino builds a casino in 1880, with the functionality that fits that word at the time (see "the word casino"). The building, which is called Cazin in Romanian, consists of a ballroom, two game rooms and two reading rooms. And there is a large terrace where the many tourists enjoy the super tropical climate.
The Casino Constanta soon gets known for the many gala parties, the masked ball and the theater performances. The Romanian opera star that makes a furore in Milan, Charlotta Leria, performs regularly. The Romanian writer Barbu Ştefănescu Delavrancea describes the atmosphere in the early days. According to him, it is mainly the English who provide income in the gaming rooms, where dominoes and chess are the most important games.
A new building
In 1891, the wooden building was partially destroyed by a storm. There are already plans for renovation and expansion of the casino. On January 29, 1892, the municipality decided that it would be cheaper to build an entirely new pavilion. A few months later, the mayor signs the contract for construction at a new location. A year later there is another opportunity to play and dance in the new, still largely wooden, casino Constanta. While the contractor continues to build.
The municipality must continuously adjust its ambitions. The planned pavilion with ball and theater halls, rooms and more facilities is becoming increasingly smaller. The municipality transfers the exploitation to entrepreneurs for cost reasons. In particular Captain Constantin Creanga, son of the then famous writer Ion Creanga, is mentioned. However, he and his co-entrepreneurs cannot make the casino profitable. They return the exploitation to the government after a while.
Renovation and renewal
In the meantime, parties are continuing at Casino Constanta. However, the views on architecture are changing and the municipality sees that it must keep up with the times. In 1903, they commissioned a local architect, Daniel Renard, originally from France, to transform the existing building into a modern building. The Constanta casino must be given a look that allows it to compete with other European casinos, such as the already famous Monte Carlo casino.
Renard proposes a Jugenstill-style building. It leads to a conflict between the city council, but prefect Scarlat Vernav manages to push through the plans. Incidentally, not only the plans are under discussion. According to many, 32-year-old Daniel Renard is also a risk. With enormous cost overruns and poor constructions, he worked on projects in Bucharest shortly before.
Due to lack of money, political conflicts and nagging about the architect, construction started in 1907. However, the problems were not over yet. In 1909, Mayor Cristea Georgescu therefore asked Elie Radu and the architects Ion Mincu and Dimitrie Maimarolu to come to Constanta. They must inspect the building and the plans. The gentlemen give extensive advice and with that much historical information about the construction, costs incurred and ideas not implemented.
They note that there are huge delays due to slow approval of construction components. Other construction has been hastily carried out. However, the biggest problem remains lack of money. Sometimes construction comes to a halt, at other times work continues on the basis of promises and trust. The construction costs are in the end considerably higher than estimated.
At the opening on August 15, 1910 there are still disagreements about the Casino Constanta among the administration and notables of the city. But the opening is festive. King Charles I is present, as is Prince Ferdinand and Prime Minister Ion Brătianu. A theater play by Alexandru Davila is performed and there is a ball in which many notables from the city participate.
While the board keeps bickering around the opening, the local newspaper Conservatorul Constanţei writes shortly before the opening: citizens can be proud of their Constanta casino. The new building, which we began to believe would never come, is finally finished. From the point of view of architectural aesthetics it leaves much to be desired. It has a complete asymmetry and is a Babylonian mix of styles. This creates an obscure impression of multi-faceted creations. It makes the new casino a monument in honor of incompetence and bad taste.
After 1910 tourists from all over the world come to the casino Constanta. Even more than before, it is mainly rich Europeans. In the meantime, the government continues to build, renovate and restore. In 1912 a French architect was commissioned to build a hotel. Various other architects are subsequently commissioned for renovations, construction and other construction work. In 1934, even the original architect, Daniel Renard, still carries out restoration and modernization work.
The first and second world war naturally also cause problems. In those periods, the Casino Constanta is a hospital, barracks and serves as a place for relaxation for German soldiers. The building hardly suffers damage at the time, while the city is under considerable fire. Storms do cause damage. For example, a platform in the sea with a view of the casino was destroyed in the early 1960s.
With the arrival of communism in 1947, the Casino Constanta is gradually falling into disrepair. The building first becomes a sort of community center with culture and later a labor camp. Repairs are still being carried out, but they hardly lead to real improvements.
In 1986 a team of artists performed another restoration. They apply paintings, plaster the walls and provide the windows with stained glass. However, shortly thereafter the building falls into decline again. Two years later, the communist government carries out the final restoration. But because of the costs, the always-playing lack of money around the Constanta casino, and the fall of the Communist regime in 1989, the building was finally closed in 1990.
In 2015 there are plans to thoroughly renovate the Constanta casino. Dozens of building plans from that time that roam the internet. However, implementation is not possible.
At the start of 2018, the opportunities for the building seem to be finally turning. The Casino Constanta is included, as a historical heritage, on the annual list of the federation Ons Europa. This collaboration of more than 250 organizations from 45 countries is committed to European heritage. Under the chairmanship of opera singer Placido Domingo, a list has been compiled for 2018 with 7 endangered buildings. And so the Casino Constanta.
At the presentation of the list, Francisco de Paula Coelho, president of the European Investment Bank (EIB), partner of the Europa Nostra, said: "With this new list we expect that buildings for future generations will be preserved. Everyone in the city must work together to make restoration possible. "
Holidays and casinos
In that city, this collaboration is good at the moment. Constanta is a lively, old city. The largest in the region. Close to the old casino is the bustling Boulevard Tumis, the old name of the city, with dozens of casino hotels and arcades.
The old Casino Constanta is located at the end of that boulevard on the corner of one of the largest ports in Europe. From the building you can take a walk of a few kilometers over the Digul de Nord, a dam in the Black Sea, which separates the sea and the harbor. There are several shops on the dam, but above all it gives a special view of the sea and an impressive historic city. A city that has a lot to offer for every tourist.
The photo in the header is from Romain Veillon. On his site you can see more photos of the casino in its current state of decline.
Did you find it interesting to read about Casino Constanta? Then also read our article about the first official Western casino or about how things were going in the casino world around 1800.