Inside the abandoned 'Las Vegas of Italy'

Inside the abandoned ‘Las Vegas of Italy’, a hillside ghost town with wacky architecture – and a bar

  • These pictures give you a mesmerising glimpse inside the so-called Città dei Balocchi – ‘City of Toys’ 
  • It once lured visitors with quirky architecture, shopping galleries and even a fake castle 
  • The ‘city’ was the brainchild of eccentric entrepreneur Count Mario Bagno, who razed a village to build it 

It’s certainly one of the grander ghost towns – and being Italian, it even has a functioning bar.

These pictures give you a mesmerising glimpse inside the so-called Città dei Balocchi – ‘City of Toys’ – which was once a playground for well-heeled residents and tourists from Milan, an 80-minute drive to the south.

In its heyday, the tourist hotspot, in the foothills of the Alps, lured visitors with quirky architecture and attractions that included shopping galleries, casinos, restaurants, a grand hotel and a ballroom. It even had a fake castle. But now the eerie carcass of this eccentric folly sits crumbling on the hillside, with the surrounding woodlands slowly swallowing it.

The so-called Città dei Balocchi – ‘City of Toys’ – was once a playground for well-heeled residents and tourists from Milan, an 80-minute drive to the south 

In its heyday, City of Toys lured visitors with quirky architecture and attractions that included shopping galleries, casinos, restaurants, a grand hotel and a ballroom. It even had a fake castle 

The eerie carcass of this eccentric folly sits crumbling on the hillside. Above, a Chinese pagoda slowly subsides

The ‘city’ was the brainchild of eccentric entrepreneur Count Mario Bagno. He’d been involved in constructing many of Italy’s roads and airports, but decided in the 1960s to capitalise on the economic boom and branch out to create an Italian Las Vegas.

His method for building it was fairly brutal.

The quiet, rural town of Consonno was picked as the best spot. Bagno bought it for 22.5million lire (around 600,000,000 lire or £280,000 in today’s money), forced the 60-odd residents to relocate and razed every building save for the church and its cemetery, and the rectory.

Some villagers had left for good when construction got underway in 1965, but others stayed and worked at the new resort town for an alleged pittance.

Bagno opted to use bulldozers and dynamite to level the hillside it would be erected on, which set off landslides that delayed the grand opening.

However, the first stage was completed in 1968 and guests welcomed.

But the website Sometimes Interesting notes that along with the remote location being a problem, the ‘constant, slow expansion made the town feel more like a construction site rather than a resort’ with birdsong ‘constantly interrupted by the sounds of hammering and sawing’.

Count Bagno was also said to be indecisive, with plans constantly chopping and changing.

The ‘city’ was the brainchild of eccentric entrepreneur Count Mario Bagno. He’d been involved in constructing many of Italy’s roads and airports, but decided in the 1960s to capitalise on the economic boom and branch out to create an Italian Las Vegas

The site used to be home to the quiet, rural town of Consonno. Bagno bought it for 22.5million lire (around £10,000), forced the 60-odd residents to relocate and razed every building save for the church and its cemetery, and the rectory

Bagno opted to use bulldozers and dynamite to level the hillside it would be erected on, which set off landslides that delayed the grand opening. However, the first stage was completed in 1968 and guests welcomed 

Despite the setbacks, and being slammed by neighbouring provinces for its off-the-wall appearance, the half-finished City of Toys enjoyed a few years of success.

Guests relaxed amid Arabic arches and a minaret tower, elaborate fountains and Chinese pagodas.

The medieval castle at the entrance, complete with model soldiers, would no doubt have entertained, too.

A rusting vehicle left to rot in the City of Toys. The resort town enjoyed a boom in the late 1960s and early 1970s

However, the resort’s success was short-lived.

There had been plans for tennis courts, a car racing circuit, a football field, a small zoo, a bowling alley, an amusement park, an Egyptian Sphinx and more – but in October 1976 another landslide destroyed the main access road, cutting off its supply line.

The blockage was eventually cleared, but the economic damage had been done.

Nature has reclaimed one of the buildings on the site. There had been plans for tennis courts, a car racing circuit, a football field, a small zoo, a bowling alley, an amusement park, an Egyptian Sphinx and more

It is possible to visit the former City of Toys – and there is a seasonal bar there run by the Amici di Consonno Association

Count Bagno decided it was too remote to make a fortune from tourism and that there was more money to be made from establishing an old people’s home there.

In the 1980s he made plans to modernise and remodel the former Grand Hotel for elderly residents, but he died in October 1995 and the development never materialised.

Count Bagno’s estate decided to shut the place in June 2007.

In the 1980s Bagno made plans to modernise and remodel the former Grand Hotel for elderly residents, but he died in October 1995 and the development never materialised 

The Count Bagno estate decided to shut the City of Toys in June 2007. That same month the abandoned resort town played host to an illegal rave, with hundreds of revellers causing damage and covering surfaces in graffiti


Quirky: The City of Toys featured architectural influences from around the world 

The Amici di Consonno Association is dedicated to taking care of the buildings as best it can

That same month the abandoned resort town played host to an illegal rave, with hundreds of revellers causing damage and covering surfaces in graffiti.

After this, a group of locals – and fans of the town – formed the Amici di Consonno Association, dedicated to taking care of the buildings as best it could.

There’s clearly not a great deal it can achieve without substantial finances, but in 2012 it did manage to open a seasonal bar called Bar De La Spinada, staffed by association members, on the site of one of the old cafeterias.

In 2014 the Bagno estate tried to sell the site for 12million (£10.7million) euros, but there were no takers. So, for now, the City of Toys remains a playground for dedicated fans of abandoned buildings.   

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