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'One Man's Dream': Italy's Ai Pioppi, the personal theme park

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Published: November 9, 2013 at 12:49 PM

While traveling down a tree-lined road through a forest near the northern Italian town of Treviso, drivers start to see row-upon-row of wooden picnic tables through the trees. A tall metal slide whose top is hidden in the canopy of leaves appears. Swings, hand-powered merry-go-rounds, even a metal roller coaster seems to have grown up out of the forest. An open-air restaurant causes the smells of cooking to blend with the smells of the forest. And a man with the facial lines of an eighty-year-old and the infectious smile of an eight-year-old can be found welding in a ram-shackle workshop. The man's name is Bruno. He built this place.

This is Ai Pioppi.

Ai Pioppi

Bruno started Ai Pioppi in 1969 with two jugs of wine, some sausages and a salami. He hung the meat from a tree branch, set up a small grill, and declared his restaurant open. Since that day this restaurant in the forest has grown into a popular family attraction, both for the good, basic menu and for the unique attractions that Bruno has built to attract diners to his restaurant. (Sound familiar?)

Is Ai Pioppi an amusement park? Not in the traditional sense that most of us would think of, but perhaps it is an amusement park in the purest sense. It is a place when guests find joy, fun and a child-like thrill while playing on an amazing mixture of unique playground equipment and one-of-a-kind amusement rides, all constructed by Bruno himself in his on-site workshop. Some are as simple as a basic slide while others are actual roller coasters, but everything at Ai Pioppi was born in the mind of Bruno. They say that Walt Disney built Disneyland — Bruno actually constructed Ai Pioppi with his own hands, welding the metal and creating the attractions to appear to be part of the forest itself.

It is hard to imagine what such a place as Ai Pioppi is like without experiencing it, but a trip to northern Italy is not practical for most theme park fans, and to be honest Ai Pioppi is probably not a "destination park." As unique a place as it is, it would probably remain a local attraction with little exposure to the outside world were it not for Fabrica, a communications research, studio and school located in Italy. They recently completed a short documentary about Ai Pioppi, thus bringing this remarkable amusement park to the attention of the theme park world.

The video was directed by Luiz Romero, Coleman Guyon and Giacomo Pennicchi. It was written by Luiz Romero and scored by Coleman Guyon.

Most of us think of amusement/theme parks as big, flashy, carefully detailed entertainment worlds where the motto "bigger, better, faster, higher," etc. is what they brag about and aim for. A park such as has been created by Bruno at Ai Pioppi is as foreign a concept as northern Italy is a foreign country to most of us. Perhaps Bruno has created a new kind of theme park, one that is inseparable from the forest where it stands and where it was created. The broad smiles of the visitors, the laughter of the children and the look of child-like delight on the faces of the adults who are enjoying this experience tells me that this place is important, a valuable addition to the concept of the theme park.

It truly is "One Man's Dream," a dream brought to life in a northern Italian forest by a man named Bruno with a ramshackle workshop, a welding torch and the vision to bring his dream to life and share it with the world.

Readers' Opinions

From Rod Whitenack on November 9, 2013 at 1:20 PM
Fascinating article and video! Thank you for presenting me with something I would have otherwise never had known about. This is the kind of story that fires my own dreams. I can't even imagine the memories this individual has given to the children living in small towns near the forest. Bravo.
From James Rao on November 9, 2013 at 2:56 PM
What TPI Regular would NOT want to build something like Ai Pioppi?

Great stuff, James. I never even knew a place like this amusement park existed. So, were you actually there or did you just find out about it and want to share your discovery with the rest of TPI?

Being as I am 3rd generation Italian born in America, it would behoove me to get back to the Motherland at some point, and if so, why not stop by a one of a kind place like Ai Pioppi? By the time I can afford to go, these "smaller, shorter, slower" personal rides may be all I can handle! ;)

Good stuff, Mr. K.!

From James Koehl on November 9, 2013 at 4:43 PM
I wish I could claim the discovery of this remarkable park or the documentary revealing it to the world. I believe that Fabrica sent the link to Robert, and he offered me the chance to write an article about it. I am so glad he did- I found the documentary fascinating to watch on several levels. I thought it was a visually beautiful film, and as a Theme Park Apprentice veteran I was intrigued at the concept of someone actually building his own park with his own two hands.

Thank you for the kind words about the article. My article is only as good as the material I have to work with, and Ai Pioppi and the film that brought it to our attention is a true masterpiece. I am just the messenger.

From Jonah Sirota on November 9, 2013 at 9:45 PM
Thank you, James. This is profoundly cool. I see in this a little bit of that spirit of homegrown joy-making that I've found at Knoebel's, which, although different from Ai Pioppo, is equally unique, I believe. Also, the hand-welded rides at Ai Pioppi reminded me of images I've seen of the City Museum in St. Louis, which I've never visited, but which is supposed to be a similarly open-ended, semi-chaotic, and joyous experience to visit.

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