At the beginning of February, current year, we went to Constanta (Romania) hoping to catch the last days of the frozen Black Sea, before the positive temperatures were going to melt everything. This weather transition happened on our way, leaving Bucharest from -15 degrees in the morning, arriving in Constanta just 226 km away to a mild plus 2. It wasn’t just the weather that was welcoming us, we were also pretty lucky on the road, because we hitchhiked a good car with an experienced driver that took us through a snow storm on the highway. After more than half the distance, the highway was closed, and 90% of the cars followed the near exit. Luckily our driver decided to continue to drive the rest of the distance, and to stop only if police cars would stand in his way. Soon enough we were safe and sound in Constanta, looking back and being grateful of not being stuck in the freezing snow, waiting for authorities to manage the situation or better weather to come (second option I guess it’s faster in Romania).
The next day the entire promenade on the Black Sea shore was melting fast. The sea was still white as far as the eye can see, but the frozen waves that we were expecting, were missing from the picture. What did fit in this glacial atmosphere was the old Casino - now open to the public to see it in decay. To visit, you must wear a helmet, available at the entrace.
Casino Constanta is an historic monument built in Art Nouveau style between 1904 -1910, to meet the needs of the Black Sea tourists in the period so called La belle Époque: well dressed gentleman reading the newspaper early in the morning, enchanting ladies walking on the promenade, the sound of military music filling the atmosphere on sunset, inviting people to “dance” their impeccable evening outfits. The man who conceived this challenging project, very modern at that time, was Daniel Renard a young Romanian architect of Swiss origin. The building exceeds in rich decorations inspired by the vegetal and marine worlds: waves, climbing plants, beautiful flowers and fantastic shell windows, make you believe that you are in an undersea palace, where Poseidon is waiting to greet you on his throne, behind the curtain of the majestic theatre stage from the main room. The Casino is challenging your imagination step by step, with every ornament, every broken mirror, and every crack in the wall producing an emotional rollercoaster outlined by the magnificent view of the sea. What used to be the main social and cultural attraction of the city in the past today is lying in despair, completely neglected like a true old man celebrating alone his 100th anniversary.
But this is not the only version of the old Casino: during World War II, the building was transformed in hospital, and during the communist regime was a restaurant where, weddings, baptisms and communist events were organized. Little by little his fame started to fade.
In 2000th the casino is taken under the care of the Municipality of Constanta. In 2007 the municipality signs a concession contract on 49 years with the Israeli company Queen Co Leisure International (QLI), in exchange of 140.000 € annualy. QLI states publicly that they will invest 15 millions € in renovation transforming the casino in an international entertainment center, the biggest in Romania. The optimistic company forecasted that the investment was going to be recovered in 5 years. Another 4 years passes and still nothing happens. The municipality ends the contract and starts searching for a buyer. Soon enough this decision starts a public scandal, where the Ministry of Regional Development and Tourism (MRDT) promises to take over the problem. The old Casino is going to be restored completely with funds from the MRDT’s budget. The new dates are placing the beginning of the renovation work in maximum one year after the Casino is officially under MRDT administration, and another 2 years to finish the work. So far the first deadline for starting the project is going to be August-September 2012.
Casino Constanta will always be a symbol of its city, a reference point for every tourist, a pearl on the Black Sea shore: let’s hope the story of the Old Casino is “to be continued”…