Exploring the islands of Venice allows you to traverse a rich variety of cultural histories. Every visually striking example of architecture undoubtedly has a lengthy story behind it, including great 20th Century structures like the Hotel des Bains, found at Lungomare Guglielmo Marconi on Lido. Inaugurated in the year 1900, the Des Bains was designed by the Venetian architects Raffaello and Francesco Marsich in a Liberty style, and closed periodically over the years since, before its permanent closure in 2010. Facing the sea and towering over the tree-lined street, the imposing figure of the hotel still stands today, cordoned off and emptied out. However, at its height before the first world war, the structure boasted 191 rooms, a large garden and a strip of private beach. These luxuries welcomed a huge variety of interesting characters over the years, from notorious dictators to Hollywood films stars. Most famously, the Hotel des Bains served as the inspiration for the novella Death in Venice by German Nobel-prize winning author Thomas Mann, who stayed there on Lido in 1911. 60 years later, the iconic Italian film director Luchino Visconti chose to use the building as a set for his film adaptation of Mann’s work, cementing the hotel’s significance in cinematic history. Long-term connections to the Venice Film Festival also meant that the Hotel des Bains was a space for socialising amongst the elites of the film industry, with actors such as Marlon Brando, Audrey Hepburn and Robert De Niro making use of the many amenities. So what happened to this grand historical treasure? Now that the Des Bains is empty, what does the future look like for Lido’s rich cultural heritage?
The official plan is to convert the building into a complex of luxury residences; the Residenze des Bains. However, construction has been halted on several instances since the initiation of the project, and only time will tell how the current pandemic might push things back even further. Hollywood producers and PR experts such as David Linde have mourned the closure of the hotel, recalling its significance in the past decades as a social centre of the film festival. Linde laments the loss of the privacy and convenience that Des Bains offered in comparison to other luxury competitors on the Grand Canal, like the Bauer or the Cipriani, and claims the Excelsior on Lido does not compare in terms of friendly service. Shutting the doors on the hotel therefore had a wider effect on the overall atmosphere of the festival, and the position of Lido as a hotspot for the star guests who flock to Venice every year. The confusion surrounding the building’s conversion may offer an opportunity for enthusiasts of the Hotel Des Bains’ cultural history; could the hotel be revived? In recent years, it has been partially opened for use of exhibitions on cinematic works, reigniting interest in its historical importance and contemporary potential. Perhaps, with a push in the right direction, the decadent grandeur of this 20th Century treasure can be recaptured once again.
By Ruby Lloyd-Smith