The story of the termal waters in Castrocaro: pleasure, healing, and well-being of the body and spirit
Ulisse Tramonti - Architect and full professor of Architectural Design at the University of Florence
The story of Castrocaro’s thermal waters begins at the end 1830 with a penalty procedure for illegal transport of salt water, stolen from a spring in the Rupe de’ Cozzi valley by the settler Antonio Samorì. The water, containing sodium chloride, iodide and bromide, became famous thanks to the curing of Adolfo Targioni Tozzetti, a “young man with high hopes” and grandson of the more famous Antonio, hearing officer of the district of Rocca San Casciano and, in 1841, the “miraculous curing” of the Marquise Caterina Martelli, a great lady at the Grand Ducal Court of Florence.
In 1851, at Palazzo Guarini, Count Antonio Marescotti, with the aid of the notable Carlo Frassineti, opened the ‘Stabilimento Balneario delle Sorelle Liverini’, a bathing establishment with special rooms with marble tubs, equipped with all necessary comforts for bathers. In the second half of the nineteenth century, Castrocaro, just like the rest of Central Europe, witnessed the so-called “War of the Wells” - a fierce competition between the owners of the various springs - an important protagonist of which was the thirty-year-old Aristide Conti who, in 1871, opened a small initial Establishment at his home which he expanded and upgraded in 1874 with polished travertine tubs, vertical and horizontal showers, and entertainment and reading rooms with attached café and restaurant. In 1887, Conti purchased the ‘il Ponte’ farmstead, creating a new Establishment and beginning the planting of what would later become one of Italy’s most famous thermal parks. The lasting success of this enterprise was decreed by a select clientèle who loved not only the effectiveness of the water but also the “Virgilian tranquillity” of the park, structured as a fundamental connective element of the life of the bathers, with walks to regulate their drinking cures and shady corners to restore them in a kind of tranquillity therapy.
The ongoing search for new springs led, in 1924, to the discovery within the park of a source of sulphurous water containing sodium chloride and iodide, which was protected through construction, by the Faenzabased “award-winning Focaccia & Melandri ceramic art factory”, of a small temple inspired by the ancient Greek distyle in antis, with terrazzo columns topped with majolica composite capitals. Inside, a magnificent glazed ceramic dossal covers a kind of arcosolium out of which the beneficial water flows and where every shade of blue, green and gold are combined with sophisticated elegance. To enhance the small temple, described as “Pompeian”, landscaping elements were created such as the great staircase linking the two terraces, sadly now demolished, and a series of statues, tables and benches designed by Giuseppe Casalini.
In 1936, the Conti heirs’ financial difficulties formed the pretext for adding the Terme di Castrocaro to the nation’s heritage companies. Thus an old dream cherished since 1925 by the Mussolini family - particularly Arnaldo, who loved Castrocaro for its waters but also its relevance to places that fuelled the myth of the origins of his more famous brother - was fulfilled. In 1937, enthusiasm for the acquisition of colonies and the proclamation of the Italian Empire extended to large infrastructures, sublimated in the Romagna region by the plan for the motorway between Forlì and the sea (never realised), intended to bring the numerous foreign tourists of the Adriatic Coast to the art and spa centres of the Forlì inland area, such as the hill-top town of Bertinoro, Rocca delle Caminate castle, the Terme di Castrocaro and the Roman hot springs of Fratta.
The Padiglione delle Feste (festival pavilion) was the first building to be created ‘by higher will’, as a driving force for development of the spa resort, designed by the engineer Diego Corsani of the State Property Central Planning Office and artistically reinvented in wonderful decorative Art Deco style by the grace and expressive force of Tito Chini, director of the Fornaci Chini ceramics factory in Borgo San Lorenzo and true designer of the image of the entire complex. The Padiglione was conceived as a living space and an explosion of light and colour, distinguished by continuous and symmetrical transparencies accentuating the contribution of the lush green fabric of the park to its interior. The simple and stereotypical spaces are enhanced through skilful use of materials: terracotta, black marble, travertine and iridescent ceramic which, with a strong decorative sense, envelops the building with a stylised wave motif. This woven texture is dominated by strong colours such as blue, red, green and ochre, associated with the famous metallic sheen of the Fornaci Chini, alternating the recurrent apotropaic motifs of the dolphin and the cornucopia in infinite tone variations.
Outside, to the sides of the entrance and framed within two niches, stand two ‘core-shaped’ green marble fountains, crowned by five elements of decreasing size with the typical Egyptian form of the papyrus capital. The explosion of light in the lobby exalts the circle motif which continues right up to the ceiling design. The great circular panel of the floor, in which the colours grow deep and intense, is divided into four parts of a great windrose, each section depicting a stately galleon with all sails up against a starry turquoise sky. To the sides of the entrance to the Salone delle Feste (ballroom), two small, symmetrical hallways house two precious caskets enclosed by iridescent golden walls bearing the vertically alternating motifs of the flower, the dove, the dolphin and the miraculous cornucopia.
The Salone (great hall) is lit by decorated skylights and crystal ceiling light fixtures, supplied by the firm Venini of Murano which also created the large crystal chandeliers in the shape of upturned cardinal’s hats and the wall-mounted shell lamps with pearly opalescence, underlined by sinuous and glassy turquoise waves. From the gallery on the first floor, ten boxes open up, decorated by as many panels lacquered with silvery paint composing a decorative theme inspired by the cycle of the seasons. The Sala da Gioco (gaming hall), which closes the sequence of leisure and relaxation rooms, is decorated, on the surface of three entire walls, by panels celebrating playing cards in decorative variations. From the side corridors, large turquoise-coloured doors, opening onto the great hall, feature silver-coloured apotropaic decorative motifs of pomegranate sprigs and cornucopias from which thread-like water descends, its curling back-waves reaching darting dolphins.
The Padiglione was inaugurated unfinished in September 1938 by Prince Umberto of Savoy. 1 June 1938 saw the opening of the new Bathing Establishment, grafted into the pre-existing structure of the Baths, planned by the Property Valuation Office of Forlì under the guidance of the engineer Rosario Pappalardo but once again with the architectural and decorative contribution of Tito Chini. Ten large terracotta metopes - five on each side - with blue enamel inserts depict the themes of the amphora dispensing beneficial water, the shell and the aquarium, underlining the spatial harmony of the monumental pronaos which, through three large openings, leads into the Establishment’s impressive lobby, conceived as an extraordinary double-volume stopping space and checked by Chini in minute detail.
It was Benito Mussolini who, after a visit to the finished parts of the new spa complex in 1939, decided to double the size of the park and transform the old spa boarding house into a luxury Grand Hotel. The project was entrusted to the engineer Pappalardo with the supervision of Chini who, from November 1939, held the title of “Artistic Consultant to the Property Valuation Office of Forlì” and made significant compositional changes such as raising of the central part of the building by one floor, creation of a terrace overlooking the park, the water tower and the design of a new cornerstone with entrance at the junction of Via Nazionale and Via Conti. When work was stopped in 1943, only the building’s outer shell, the ground-floor rooms required by the Regime and a few functional bedrooms were in place, and its completion took place only after the War.