One upon a time in the sun-soaked lands of Italy, there lived a brewmaster named Gigi Stecca.
This was first written for The Abandoned Carousel podcast, which you can listen to or watch. Or, read on below.
Origins of the Abandoned Planes
Gigi Stecca reportedly spent years managing nursing homes in Venice. His time brought him into conversation with many elderly Italians who wistfully gazed at the skies, and who expressed the desire to board such airplanes. The story goes that he decided to make a place where anyone could see the inside of a plane if they so chose. But given that this is a story to be covered on The Abandoned Carousel, we can be sure it wasn’t just any regular type of place.
Stecca purchased two airplanes from a private collector, and at considerable expense, had them disassembled and moved to a place near Venice. In the quiet town of Villamarzana, at the site of a former convent, he had the airplanes reassembled.
Reportedly, Stecca was quite proud of his purchases, as one of these planes had been Italian president Leone’s personal aircraft for a time. The DC-6 was apparently used as a disco for some time in the 1980s, prior to coming to Villamarzana. The Tupolev has the operating number OK-CFE.
Michelangelo da Vinci
Stecca didn’t want a simple airplane museum or airplane graveyard, though, which are fascinated and can be found all over the world. No, he wanted more than that.
He had the planes “parked” almost nose to nose at a roughly 90 degree angle.
And then he built a “control tower” between them.
Then he built a swimming pool underneath the wings.
And this was all part of a complex containing a former convent and church.
Did I mention that there’s a helicopter, too?
It was named Michelangelo da Vinci.
Glory Days for Michelangelo da Vinci
Stecca had students from the school of art in Venice decorate the gardens and the interior of the buildings. The theme was “Renaissance”. There were statues and sculptures and frescoes in every corner of the outdoor gardens, incongruous next to these shiny airplanes.
Oh, and the helicopter, the Agusta AB 47J-3 Super Ranger, shiny and red, parked on some fake aquaducts behind the planes. This helicopter was built in 1962 and served as part of Italy’s National Fire Corps until 1984.
And inside, massively oversized versions and cheap imitations of classics: The Last Supper, the Mona Lisa, the head of David. They all sat amongst the stately remains of the convent, with its beautiful architecture and grand central area. The former organ served as part of the inside bar.
Dining at Michelangelo da Vinci
Michaelangelo da Vinci opened as a restaurant in fall of 2000, offering guests delicious pizza and excellent beer, as well as the opportunity for a unique dining venue.
Initially, guests could dine inside the two planes (the kitchen was the fake control tower). However, this apparently changed within the first few years. Reportedly, the concept of dining inside the planes was better than reality. Fitting four-person tables in the narrow planes was difficult. In addition, carrying the food up and down the narrow stairs was not easy. Reports online from 2010 say that even then, the interiors had been closed for several years.
Guests could dine inside the main buildings, however, apparently even able to eat sitting inside a confessional cabinet.
TripAdvisor reviews generally paint the food and drink as excellent, although there are mixed opinions on the service. And apparently the place held a few private events, with ambitions to become a nightclub at one point.
You might be asking yourself why, if this place had such a unique theme and pretty good food, why we’re talking about it on TAC.
Legal Troubles for Michelangelo da Vinci
Locals, in various online discussions, sing a common refrain: that the restaurant was built in the wrong area, and that the location is not a place where one would profit. Too far from city centers, they say. Management costs for the large size of the property also didn’t help. And as online reviews make clear, the quality of the food started out excellent and then declined as the money problems began.
In addition, there were troubles with the local government. Apparently only three months after the restaurant opened, the municipality of Villamarzana fined Stecca’s company, citing “mega-building abuse”. There’s a bit lost in translation here, as this sounds quite dramatic to my American ears, but essentially, it sounds like Villamarzana didn’t like Stecca’s planes parked as a commercial venture. There’s some speculation that he built the place without the proper permits, but that’s not quite clear.
Bureaucracy and the Abandoned Planes
What happened next was the slow-moving gears of bureaucracy. The municipality fined Stecca’s company to the tune of 1.3 billion lire. At that point, there began to be negotiations and appeals, with dissatisfaction between both parties. Reading between the lines, the municipality appears to have been quite displeased by the large planes parked on easy display from the road.
Quote from a former local via Reddit: “Having lived for many years in Italy myself I know how slow the gears of bureaucracy can grind, and if the local Council have it in for you then you’re going to face years of legal wrangling and endless disputes, visits from officials, and expensive interventions from your Avvocato (Attorney). I’m not surprised the guy gave up after 14 years, he had probably had enough. Running a restaurant is hard enough on its own without the rest of that shit on top.”
Ultimately, Stecca closed the restaurant and business in 2014. The legal battles were an ultimately Pyrrhic victory: the municipality was able to collect its fines, but with the company and business shuttered, there was no one to collect the fines from.
The Abandoned Planes
The Planes, as the site is known locally, now sit. The once-glimmering blue pool is now sludgy and green, much more menacing than originally intended.
The planes themselves are still in place and the interiors of the site appear in good repair, likely due to the security systems that multiple urban explorers have gotten themselves caught in. Minus a coat of dust, the interiors appear closed almost yesterday.
On the exterior, though, with no one to maintain them, the planes have become covered in grime and look incredibly weather-worn and sad. Streaks of green and gray obscure the formerly brilliant paint, which is starting to peel in places.
The garden surroundings have become overgrown, and the exterior too looks weather-worn, grimy, and unhappy.
Future of the Abandoned Planes
Several deals on the property appear to have come and gone. In 2016, it was reported that a Paduan entrepreneur had purchased the property, with the intent of reopening it as a restaurant as well as potentially using the space for film sets. However, by 2017, this deal had reportedly fallen through.
In March of 2019, the local paper reported on the current status of the attraction, though of course, the article is light on details. The mayor of Villamarzana has apparently received an offer from an entity interested in reopening the airplanes. More information will apparently be available after the bankruptcy auction of the property, date unknown.
Gigi Stecca’s Prospects
And what about Stecca?
He’s still alive, moved on to other business ventures. These days, he’s receiving awards for the “Ray of Life” glassware he created while operating the Michelangelo da Vinci. You see, Stecca was apparently trained in an abbey in Belgium, so he’s got some brewing creds. His glassware has special ridges on the inside that release the carbon dioxide, reportedly allowing the drinker to absorb less alcohol into their bloodstream.
We’ll have to wait and see what comes next for the abandoned planes of Villamarzana. For now, let’s raise our glasses and toast to a very interesting restaurant concept, indeed.
Remember that what you’ve read is a podcast! A link is included at the top of the page. Listen to more episodes of The Abandoned Carousel on your favorite platform: Apple Podcasts | Google Podcasts | Spotify | RadioPublic | TuneIn | Overcast | Pocket Casts | Castro. Support the podcast on Patreon for extra content! Comment below to share your thoughts – as Lucy Maud Montgomery once said, nothing is ever really lost to us, as long as we remember it.
I’ve included a complete list of references used while researching this topic. It’s hidden under the link for brevity.
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