Consonno: The Ghost of a Surreal Town

Consonno-Minareto

The Dream of an Italian Las Vegas

What do you think when you see a bucolic little village, quietly nested on a green hill surrounded by a vast forest?
If your answer is “I’d bulldoze the crap out of it and build on those grounds a concrete amusement park of deliriously exotic styles” then you might have something in common with Count Mario Bagno. This is  the eccentric entrepreneur that, in the 60s, decided to turn a rural village of 200 people – sitting on lands he owned – into a futuristic amusement park. So it all happens: a 1001-nights-styled shopping centre with minaret, a Japanese garden and many other amenities to amuse a naive country enjoying an unprecedented economic boom. Then the money river stopped flowing and a landslide closed the only paved road to access it by car, bringing Bagno’s dream to a premature halt. The luxurious “Hotel Plaza” has been converted to a retirement house before closing down in the mid-90s. Time, nature and a savage act of vandalism shaped Consonno in what it is now.

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Consonno today

Going to Consonno is a strangely melancholic experience. Arriving on the street from Olginate you are greeted by rusty signs where you can barely read glorious quotes such as “Consonno the smallest and most beautiful town in the world” or “Who lives in Consonno lives longer”. A very long way to the modern marketing standards. The first building in sight is what my parents describe as a dance hall, now just a concrete skeleton. The only sign of the ancient hamlet is a well preserved church and a house next to it that looks like it might crumble any minute. A few huts have been restored and now host a bar used on weekends and festivities, and next to it the abandoned amusement park looms between overgrown vegetation. Technically the buildings are not accessible and are fenced off. However the fence can easily be opened in a typical Italian fashion “we warned you, your business now”. When I enter the hotel Plaza I’m always taken by a mixture of sadness and disappointment. I can quite see, like in a very vivid movie, the horde of people that mindlessly thrashed the place. The association Amici di Consonno managed to clear up lots of it but the signs of destruction are a symbol, and memory, of waste and violence.

The future of Consonno

I’ve always dreamt of seeing Consonno requalified as a ruin park, its hotel repurposed hosting a peaceful community taking care of the territory and breathing new life in this scarred area. Unfortunately this never happened and after the looting it has became nearly impossible.
Many architectural thesis and dissertations have been written about it and now the news reports that the property is on sale (5m euros!), immediately followed by counter-news claiming that it’s not actually on sale. What will happen to it? I don’t know, but I’d suggest to visit it soon.

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How to reach Consonno

Consonno is located roughly 50Km north of Milan, 10Km south of Lecco. The quickest way is from Olginate, even though the road is accessible by car only in the weekends. On Google Maps you can find the route to reach Consonno by car.

If you just have an average level of training you might enjoy reaching Consonno by bike. The road from Olginate is well paved, while the other one gets rough in the end in the last km surely not apt for a racing bike.

Reaching Consonno by public transport

Coming from Milan by train you can stop at Calolziocorte-Olginate, cross the bridge across the lake and start the climb. It might take 60 minutes. From Lecco there is a bus to Colle Brianza that passes by the junction with the road taking to Consonno.

 

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After being in Rome a few times without even looking at the Coliseum I realised that there's more to travel than sightseeing: meeting the local culture is what, 10 years later, determined the birth of this blog.

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