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A Dream within a Dream: Mario Bagno’s City of Toys in Consonno, Italy

Bojan Ivanov

This is a story about dreams and visions, about the eternal battle between illusions and reality. This story tells us about the human capacity to destroy and to change nature and how nature has subtle but powerful means to take its revenge.

The church in Consanno. Author: Marco Sbroggiò CC BY-SA 4.0 

The church in Consanno. Author: Marco Sbroggiò CC BY-SA 4.0

Consonno was a small agricultural town of medieval origin. For hundreds of years it remained unchanged until, almost as in a fairy tale, a nobleman came who changed the history of the town forever.

The signpost of Consonno today. Author: Marco Sbroggiò CC BY-SA 4.0 

The signpost of Consonno today. Author: Marco Sbroggiò CC BY-SA 4.0

It was in 1962 when Mario Bagno, an entrepreneur and an industrialist with megalomaniac ideas, bought the entire village. With the exception of the San Maurizio church, the cemetery, and a few houses, he razed everything to the ground.

Bagno forced all the families of the town to leave because he had a vision in his mind: to rebuild the town and to turn into a luxury holiday destination for tourists and the inhabitants of Milan. The dream of Mario Bagno was to create a fabulous “City of Toys”, a kind of new Las Vegas or an Italian Disneyland. The new city had to have all kinds of luxury: shopping malls, casinos, nightclubs, restaurants and a first class hotel. Of course, this would not be an extravagant place without extravagant buildings.

The commercial gallery had the shape of a Muslim minaret, Chinese pagodas stood in the gardens, and a fake medieval castle was placed at the entrance. And, if the construction had reached the right stage, there would have been a zoo, a basketball court, a motorcycle circuit, and even a replica of the Egyptian Sphinx.

The minaret in Consonno. Author: Marco Sbroggiò CC BY-SA 4.0

The minaret in Consonno. Author: Marco Sbroggiò CC BY-SA 4.0

The decaying town

Not far from Milan, the new shopping center dedicated to entertainment had an early period of success. But although most of the buildings were built and the town enjoyed a certain prestige for a few years, a landslide that took place in 1976 completely cut off road access to Consonno. Mario Bagno’s dream collapsed. Despite the difficulties, in the 1980s the entrepreneur tried to transform Consonno into a destination for retirees, but his dream died with him in 1995.

The Grand Hotel Plaza in Consonno. Author: Marco Sbroggiò CC BY-SA 4.0

The Grand Hotel Plaza in Consonno. Author: Marco Sbroggiò CC BY-SA 4.0

It was the beginning of oblivion. Season after season, year after year, the town has crumbled and decayed. All that is left is a sense of pure degradation; broken windows, rusty strings, and weeds everywhere.

Today the half-completed town of kitschy buildings is abandoned and crumbling under decades of neglect and graffiti. The atmosphere is surreal: natural vegetation has taken over the half-completed buildings. Perhaps the best way to describe this unpredictable beauty is by using Edgar Allan Poe’s verse – “A dream within a dream.”