Perhaps you weren’t aware that in 1638 the Hotel Monaco was a public Ridotto, a place where the Venetians “retreated” for the gambling, parties, fun and all those pastimes which so perfectly personified the spirit of Venice’s merchant mentality.
The hotel opened during the Carnival which then lasted six months. The Ridotto earned itself an unrivalled notoriety and was frequented by hordes of travellers attracted by the sophistication and cosmopolitan nature of the Venice Carnival which offered Europe’s most intense and extravagant theatre season, the most diverse parties and entertainment and a truly unsurpassed choice of gambling dens. The profits for the State were incredibly high.
In 1768, after 130 years of service, the Ridotto needed overall restoration and the job was given to architect Bernardino Maccaruzzi who modified the internal structure and made it more functional.
The most frequent games were basset, “faraone” and birbiss (the local version of roulette), but perhaps the most famous game of the time was “sbaraglino”.
Mentioned by Casanova as an example of passion combined with emotional tension, the game was also known in Persia and China.
In ancient Rome, it was called tric trac, while in England it took the name of backgammon. Gambling, debauchery, the presence of pimps and prostitutes and links between loan sharks and the aristocratic casino bankers were all aspects of this phenomenon which in the eyes of the people took on the aspect of scandal.
Thus on 27 November 1774 the Council of Ten decreed the definitive closure of the Ridotto.
The moment of great splendour came to an end and the place became first the seat of a state magistrature, then a materials warehouse. The French made a final attempt to bring it back to its ancient glories, but the arrival of the Austrians in the city led to the umpteenth closure.
It was then used for parties during the now brief Carnival period.
A further major restoration took place in 1936. The idea was to establish the Venice Casino there, but this was opposed by the Curia and it therefore became the projection room of the Modernissimo cinema.
In 1947, the building underwent the last transformation before becoming the Hotel Monaco, establishing there a small theatre, once again known as the Ridotto.
The idea of using the space of the Ridotto for theatrical performances was proposed by Arturo Buleghin, a former partisan who returned from France with the lively French theatre culture in his eyes and in his heart.
On 9 December 1947, the Superintendency allowed Buleghin to make his dream come true, providing the architecture of the Ridotto was not altered. The work carried out aroused many perplexities, but they continued without hindrance as, with the Goldoni Theatre closed, Buleghin’s theatre was the only possible alternative for the Venetian public.
While the Cinema closed its doors in 1984 for technical and market reasons, the theatre continued to operate until 1992.
During the last few years, Paolo Poli‘s company attracted vast audiences of prose enthusiasts aware that entering this magical place was like opening a window where space and time had stood still.
With contemporary signs, the recent restoration has managed to revive the emotions which the ancient mansion has aroused from its origins, offering some hundred or so rooms furnished in grand style for those wanting to live and feel the true soul of Venice.
(Source: Alberto Fiorin, Fanti e Denari, Arsenale Editrice)