At the end of the 1960s, Italians discovered the joys of leisure and the fun of theme parks during the economic boom. Consonno, the Disneyland of Brianza, was born in this way: today, it has become a ghost town.
Imagine the excitement of living in Lombardy at the end of the 1960s: a region in full expansion, full of work and opportunities, where petit-bourgeois families were beginning to discover the little luxuries linked to well-being, such as Sunday trips out of town. Huge amusement parks began to spring up in the lake district following the American model, veritable playgrounds designed to satisfy the visitors' wildest fantasies. The Consonno story started in those years, a story that speaks of enterprise, a relationship with the territory, and a tragic event that transformed the Disneyland of Brianza into a ghost town
The old man said, looking afar: "Imagine this covered by wheat, imagine the fruits and imagine the flowers, and think of the voices and think of the colours And on this plain, up to where it gets lost, trees grew, and everything was green; the rain fell, the suns marked the rhythm of man and of seasons."
A road trip: the ancient village of Consonno
We set off early for Consonno on a sunny Sunday at the end of November. Coming from the south, we enjoy the enchanting spectacle of the snow-capped Alps, which get closer and closer as we continue towards the Lecco branch of Lake Como. Today, the whole of the Brianza area is one of the largest urban agglomerations in Italy: expanses of buildings stretch across the Po Valley, expanding from Milan in every direction like an immense spider's web.
The weather has changed quickly since we left, and we are now amid a grey, late autumn drizzle.
The GPS tells us that we are only 20 minutes away from Consonno when the road begins to climb up Mount Regina. As we leave one of Italy's most industrialised areas behind us, we plunge into chestnut woods and around us, the landscape becomes more rural: this reminds us of what Brianza must have been like in the Sixties. Here the agricultural economy was flourishing, sustained by chestnuts, celery and leek cultivation, a pastoral place dotted with farmsteads where human life followed the natural rhythm of the seasons.
Yet in Consonno, no one owned the house they lived in or the land they cultivated: everything here belonged to the 'Immobiliare Consonno Brianza' owned by a few wealthy families.
We finally reached our destination: we parked the car on the dirt road through the woods, passed the barrier blocking the way for vehicles and walked towards the ghost town of Consonno, just over a kilometre away.
In the meantime, the rain has turned into big wads of white snow.
Walking in the woods: the origin of Toyland
The snow falls thickly and compactly and, after a short time, has already covered everything with a white blanket, turning the forest into a magical, almost unreal place.
It is so difficult to imagine how a place so full of calm and silence could have inspired a man like Count Mario Bagno to give life in Consonno to such a futuristic and ambitious project as the Toyland. This eccentric entrepreneur, riding the wave of industrialisation, grew his construction company by building airports, roads and infrastructures all over Italy.
And Consonno's dream began to come to life: panoramic circuits, sports fields, theme hotels, restaurants, funfairs, miniature golf courses, skating rinks, a zoo, a medieval castle and many dance halls.
During an interview with a Swiss TV station, Mario Bagno announced that he was going to build an autodrome in Consonno: there was no longer any limit to the possibilities and ambition of this entrepreneur.
"Consonno is the smallest but most beautiful village in the world"
We finally reach Consonno from the high road, now also covered by a frosty white blanket. In front of us, the Minaret, the symbol of the Toyland, stands out in the sky. There was a long shopping gallery on the ground floor, while on the first and second floors, there were flats of about 70 square metres each. In front of the Minaret was a fountain that emitted spectacular jets of water.
Today the entire structure is in ruins, the walls covered with coloured murals, a legacy of the many rave parties that have taken place within these walls over the last twenty years.
Under the Minaret, we can see the interiors of the flats, now stripped of all their doors: the destruction of the rooms has been meticulous, but here and there, we can still find the old cobalt blue tiles and the pipes of the toilets. Peering inside the structure, we realise that the rooms must have been princely: the large windows overlooking the valley have wide ogival arches, and from the outside, you can still see the colours of the decorations.
We are very excited, we point out to each other the most beautiful murals, the most remarkable remains of the ancient structures, and we feel like real urban archaeologists.
Looking out the back of the building, we catch a glimpse of the arches leading to Consonno from the lower road, and we can make out a few letters of the writing on them: "Consonno is the smallest but most beautiful village in the world". The rust has ruined the inscription incredibly, but it still makes us imagine how exciting it must have been to get close to this dream town in its heyday.
"In Consonno it's always a party"
Going down the main street, we observe a large building on the right, the medieval castle: this too is entirely covered in writing and murals, and inside, the object has been carefully torn to pieces. On the ground, we find remnants of doors, glass, walls, and plaster. Once again, we feel the genuine emotion of being archaeologists inside an excavation, where every object, no matter how small, tells a story.
The main room of this building was a luxurious ballroom called the Party Room. Imagine the thousands of people who must have crowded this place during the dancing evenings, the great guests such as Dik Dik and Pippo Baudo, the lights always on and a world dedicated to carefreeness.
On the web, it is still possible to find posters and postcards of the time, faded images published in the local press that highlight the furnishings from the film studios that crowded Consonno like cannons and sphinxes
"It's wonderful here in Consonno"
It has finally stopped snowing, and we can enjoy Consonno at its best: an explosion of colours shining in the sun in a delicate white setting.
We continue our descent down the slope leading to the church, and suddenly we see something beautiful on the right: an old truck with no doors, completely rusted and completely covered in colourful writing. These little gems make Consonno genuinely unique and far from a gloomy ghost town.
After the years of the economic boom, Consonno went through a period of decline that gradually led it to no longer be the desirable and incredible destination it was: the 1970s were not kind to the Brianza Toyland.
"Those who live in Consonno live longer"
The last stop on our tour is the Grand Hotel, located about a quarter of an hour's walk from the Minaret. We pause to admire the landscape: snow has covered the high ground, but just below us, the plain is still green and brown with late autumn colours.
We slowly descend along the mountainside, passing under the arches with inscriptions celebrating Consonno, now in ruins. But how could such a grandiose project fall into oblivion? How could an avant-garde, joyful playground turn into a ghost town?
As early as 1966, continuous rainfall led to the movement of large masses of mud: all these splendid architectural works had affected the hydrogeological balance of the area, making it fragile.
These landslides slowed the flow of tourists, but the coup de grace came in 1976 when a landslide destroyed the road that passed right in front of the pagoda and the 'Bath missile'. In 1981, the entrepreneur tried to fix the road and relaunch the park, but to no avail: tourists were no longer attracted by the novelty of the place, and even the townspeople began to abandon their homes and move elsewhere.
Mario Bagno had a retirement home built inside the Plaza Hotel, where he spent the last years of his life until he died on 22 October 1995 at the age of 94, and the retirement home was finally closed in 2007.
A few days after the closure, more than a thousand people came to Consonno for the Summer Alliance, a large rave party lasting three days: for the last time, a large number of people gathered under the Minaret in Consonno to celebrate happiness and life.
A final farewell to a project that changed the face of Lombardy, a glorious and cheerful funeral with graffiti and techno music.
Consonno on the big screen
Today, the picturesque village of Consonno is used as a film set and to shoot music videos and commercials.
Director Davide Ferrario chose Consonno as the set for his 1998 film Annibale's Sons. The ghost town was also used by Levi's for a commercial, MTV's music programme and the second season of the web series Skypocaliypse (never finished).
In 2008 the medium-length film Weapons by director Andrea Bettoni, a noir film with western influences, was set in Consonno. In 2013 it was the turn of the Glassing company, which chose this ghost town for a commercial about glasses. In 2015, Lory Del Santo's web series, The Lady, was filmed here; BMW shot a commercial here the same year.
Many Italian musicians have decided to shoot their video clips in the ruins of Consonno, including the Studio 3 video 'Voglio star con te' and Pino Scotto's 'Don't Touch The Kids'.