The Hide and Seek World Championship Will Take Over an Italian Ghost Town

The annual event takes place in Consonno, an abandoned village once considered Italy’s Las Vegas

Consonno, a ghost town in northern Italy, is the location of the annual Nascondino World Championship. (iStock/Ardenvis)
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Beginning in the 1960s and through the early 1970s, Consonno—a medieval hamlet located in the province of Lecco, a densely forested area in northern Italy—underwent a planned transformation. The budding resort town was regarded as the ‘Las Vegas of Italy’ and served, throughout its years of phased construction, as an adult playground, of sorts, for people living in Milan and other nearby towns.

Count Mario Bagno, a real estate developer and the project's visionary, hoped to create Italy’s own version of Sin City, dubbing his variation the “City of Toys.” Promising wealth and jobs, Bagnos pushed out the small farming community whose families had inhabited the land for several centuries, and began construction. Over the course of the 1960s, Bagno built a collection of luxurious and eclectically designed buildings, including a grand hotel, a Chinese pagoda, a minaret and a medieval castle, according to a documentary film about the project. Over the years, he continually added a variety of amusements, like a train ride and several nightclubs, and he envisioned one day adding a zoo, runway and racetrack to the mix.

The fun lasted eight years, but in 1976, a landslide wiped out much of the village and the roadway leading to it, inhibiting public access. The venture never recovered and was abandoned to the elements. Today, the village is a ghost town –​ only the crumbling and graffitied​ shells of shops, restaurants, hotels and dance halls hint at the entertainment destination's former glory. But for a few days this September (September 8-10), Consonno will pulse with activity once again during the annual Nascondino World Championship—the world’s only large-scale international hide and seek competition.

At one time Consonno was considered an adult playground, but all that remains today are the shells of former dance halls, shops and restaurants. (iStock/AGaeta)
Consonno is a popular destination thanks to the relics that remain--even decades later--like this locomotive. (iStock/AGaeta)
A sign marking the way to the Nascondino World Championship in Consonno, Italy. (Nascondino World Championship)
Just like the childhood version, the object of the game is to make it to home base without being tagged. (Nascondino World Championship)
Contestants use a variety of barriers to block themselves from view, including hay bales. (Nascondino World Championship)
Some people wear camouflage to blend in with the surroundings. (Nascondino World Championship)
Last year's event drew 80 teams from around the world. (Nascondino World Championship)

Now in its eighth year, this year's championship has drawn 80 teams representing nearly a dozen countries from around the world to the eerie remains of Consonno, including the ghost town’s vast outdoor grounds where the gameplay itself occurs. (This is for safety reasons, as the buildings are no longer structurally sound.) Once there, competitors relive their youth by participating in an updated version of the popular childhood game. Players are given 60 seconds to find a hiding place and then must reach home base (a large, specially designed air mattress) before being caught by the seeker or before time runs out. But thanks to the valley’s vastness, which stretches across the foothills of the Alps, the competition is a far cry from the hide and seek games you might remember from your youth.

“The beauty of the event is that adults get to become children again for the weekend,” Giorgio Moratti, an event organizer, tells Smithsonian.com. “It’s a magical thing that happens and it’s amazing to see people play a simple game of hide and seek as adults.”

However, Moratti is quick to point out that the true purpose of the Nascondino World Championship is to let people experience a sliver of Italy’s history, even if all that remains of it are a few deteriorating buildings.

“Consonno and its history are well known throughout Italy, but we want people to come and discover new parts of the village, since it has such an amazing landscape,” Moratti says. “Our goal is to underline the hidden parts of Consonno.”

On Friday and Saturday night, the Nascondino festival will scatter concerts and DJ shows throughout the abandoned village, and additional "Hidden Concerts" will pop-up unannounced around the grounds. For a few nights only, the slogan on the rusting sign declaring "Consonno is always a party" will once again ring true.

About Jennifer Nalewicki

Jennifer Nalewicki is a Brooklyn-based journalist. Her articles have been published in The New York Times, Scientific American, Popular Mechanics, United Hemispheres and more. You can find more of her work at her website.

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