Campione is a unique enclave. For those who are curious, 400 years ago Campione (ancient name Campilionum) became a church-estate owned by the Bishop of the St Ambrose Diocese in Milan. Before that, Campione was a private feudal farm, left to the Roman Catholic Church by the will of a certain Totone di Campione.
When the Confederation of Switzerland came into being, to avoid antagonizing the then-powerful Popes of the Catholic Church, tiny Campione was recognized as a part of the Vatican state. Many years later, when the Papal (Church) States were taken over by the civil government of Italy, Campione became Italian, but no one in Italy paid much attention to it. Until World War П, Campione was just a rocky square mile of lakeside slopes with some luxury summer homes and sleepy vineyards tended by a few monks.
Its only claim to fame up until about 1940 was that the local monks trained young boys from the area to become expert masons and stone-cutters. Thus, many of the finest Catholic Churches in Europe, and even in America and Aigentina, were built or supervised by Campionese master builders. Did you see them in the 1988 hit movie Good Morning Babylon? Of course, no one ever paid any attention to the Campionese stone masons who starred in the film except the Campionese who are very proud of their “gift to the world of architecture”. A
The Report few exceptionally nice churches were built in Campione by master masons who then left to seek their fortunes elsewhere. Most of these master builders moved to other cities, some sent back money. Because there was no local economy, for many generations Campione was an exporter only of population and granite.
Until 1940, very little of economic significance ever happened in Campione. It would still be a sleepy little vineyard had Mussolini not given local entrepreneurs the right to start a municipally owned casino (one of four in all of Italy, the others being at St Vincent, Venice and San Remo). To this day the Italian government gets a cut of casino profits. The balance of casino earnings is spent by municipal officials on local civic betterment.
With a pre-war population of a few hundred that has now grown to 3800, Campione still isn’t Manhattan, or even Monaco (which crowds 35,000 in a similar space). But at least on summer weekends when day tripping gamblers from Italy arrive by the busload, central Campione does get lively and noisy. Tourists can’t stay overnight because there are no hotels which can be so called inside Campione, although there are outside it. Fortunately for the locals, day-tourists don’t usually venture uphill into residential areas. They park on the main street or in the parking lots near the centre and go straight to the casino. If the casino sounds like a negative for Campione, it is, except for one thing, THE MONEY!