Photo © Tom Kirsch, opacity.us
At the foot of the Swiss Alps, in Northern Italy once rested the ancient village of Consonno. Residents had survived here by growing and harvesting leeks, celery, and especially chestnuts from the bountiful trees which grew on the mountain slope. The labor was difficult but fulfilling for the residents - there were around 300 people living here at the beginning of the 20th century. There was one small catch for those that lived and worked at Consonno, however. The land and surrounding forests were wholly owed by the Real Estate Consonno Brianza company, operated by the Verga and Anghileri families. Once the population declined to about 60 in the 1960s, this ownership would change the fates of Consonno's residents, as well as the entire town.
Count Mario Bagno, a wealthy and eccentric entrepreneur, set his sights on the small town as an opportunity to capitalize on the nearby city of Milan. His idea was to completely demolish the village, and create a huge entertainment complex akin to Las Vegas in the United States. Bagano purchased the village for 22.5 million lire in 1962 - a time of Italy's economic boom, and when historical importance often fell behind the drive for future commerce. He envisioned a large shopping mall disguised as a Moorish palace, actors playing medieval warriors to "guard" castle-like gates, game rooms, ballrooms, and a wild mix of Greek columns, Chinese pagodas, and Egyptian sphinxes at his Grand Plaza Hotel. His vision also included a football field, basketball court, tennis courts, bowling alley, mini-golf, amusement park, a vast zoo and gardens, and a large restaurant featuring live orchestras. This new Consonno fantasy-park was popularly known as la Città dei Balocchi (The City of Toys).
Count Bagno's intentions to keep the agricultural characteristics of the village seemed to disappear once the new road was built into town and construction began. In 1962, bulldozers quickly demolished every home, even surprising some residents who were still living inside. A nearby hill was leveled with explosives to provide a better view of the Alps. Only the town's cemetery, the church of San Maurizio and an attached house were saved from destruction. All the clearing of the land created massive landslides in 1966 and 1967, which only slowed progress instead of stopping it.
The City of Toys enjoyed a brief time of being in business after 1967; people visited the paradise of pleasure to get married, watch famous entertainers on stage, and enjoy the restaurants and nightlife offered - even though construction was still ongoing. Former residents who did not want to leave the old town of Consonno were put in cheap housing behind the complex and offered jobs to work at the new resort. However these residents soon left in the 1970s, along with the influx of paying customers. Every day Consonno was becoming more of a ghost town; construction was eventually halted due to the lack of visitors.
Another landslide in 1976 was the death knell for the City of Toys, as it completely wiped out the main access road. Count Bagno tried to revive Consonno once again in the 1980s by planning a nursing home, but it never fully materialized. The resort has sat abandoned since 1976, and suffered heavy vandalism from massive illegal rave parties in recent years. The area is still private property, with exception to the old town cemetery.