How an Italian Restaurant Accidentally Hosted a Dinner for 100 Terrorists
Alle Fotos von Gianni Barlassina.


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How an Italian Restaurant Accidentally Hosted a Dinner for 100 Terrorists

In 1970, left-wing Italian terrorist group the Red Brigades gathered at a Costaferrata restaurant to declare war against the state. “I had no idea that the group in front of me was going to make headlines for years,” says owner Anna Incerti.
October 6, 2015, 10:00am

Da Gianni restaurant in Costaferrata, north east Italy. All photos by Gianni Barlassina.

Costaferrata is a small Italian town 40 minutes' drive from Reggio Emilia, an industrial city in Italy's north east. Despite the area's incredible beauty, its hills, perfect farmland, and woods; Costaferrata is today made up of little more than a few houses and barns.

In the middle of town is Da Gianni, a family restaurant serving traditional food from the Emilia region since it opened in 1964. As we arrive, restaurant owner Anna Incerti is waiting for us at the window.


"I turned on the fire this morning, you might be cold up here," she tells me with a large smile.

Her tone is welcoming and I feel relieved. When Incerti and I talked on the phone a few days earlier, she was almost menacing.

"You can come here and write up the story but I want to make it clear from the start: yes the Red Brigades were born here, but I had no idea that the group in front of me was going to make headlines for years with their violent terrorist attacks," she had told me.

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Incerti is referring to the summer of 1970, when the soon-to-be Red Brigades—Italy's longest-lasting left-wing terrorist group—gathered at Da Gianni for three days and decided to declare war against the Italian state.


Da Gianni owner Anna Incerti.

"The bombing of Piazza Fontana by neo-fascist terrorists that killed 17 people had just occurred and the Italian radical left was asking itself how it could organize a counter offensive," explains Giovanni Fasanella, author of several books on the radical-left terrorist group. "The Costaferrata convention set up precisely to answer such question."

We enter the restaurant and find a place that is probably quite similar to the one where the first brigatisti (as Red Brigade members are called in Italian) ate and discussed revolution. Wooden walls give it a Swiss chalet feel, while the fireplace, posters, photos, and dim lighting create a Wes Anderson-esque atmosphere. Paintings hang from every corner.


In a 1994 La Stampa article, Vincenzo Tessadori attempted an historical reconstruction of the dinner. "Salami from Emilia and sausages," he wrote. "Prosciutto and ciccioli [a pressed cake of fatty pork] as an appetizer followed by a chorus singing 'Bella ciao' [the song sung by the Italian anti-fascist movement]." Starters and seconds were then served: "Cappelletti, tortelloni, lasagne, and cannelloni as well as roasts, guinea fowl, and lamb accompanied by potatoes and salad."

Today Da Gianni's menu seems as unchanged as the furniture, except for the starter. Incerti serves us gnocco fritto, a typical dish from the area made from fried dough and eaten with a piece of sweet Parma ham. It is accompanied by a sparkling red Lambrusco.

As we dig in the food, Loris Tonino Paroli, a founding father of the Red Brigades (and now a painter), joins us. He accepts a glass of Lambrusco as we start chatting about the Red Brigades and their assaults on banks to fund the terrorist group.

We soon find out that Paroli is Incerti's cousin and the mind behind the 1970 gathering at the restaurant. The Brigades were looking for a place to meet and the then 25-year-old Paroli asked locals to host what he said were university students. He even asked the local priest to host a few soon-to-be brigatisti in the parish but with no success.


Inside Da Gianni.

As the 100 radical lefties gathered at Da Gianni, one major decision loomed over their heads: continue with "classic" political work like protests and strikes or take the fight to a whole new level by going underground and starting to shoot and kidnap "the enemies of the revolution."

Over the next 20 years, the lotta armata or "armed struggle" strategy killed 86 people, including the leader of Italy's largest political party, Aldo Moro. But Da Gianna was where the founding principles of the Red Brigades took shape.


Red Brigades founding father Loris Tonino Paroli at Da Gianni restaurant.

"We were the first to discuss what we labelled 'SIM and its implications,'" Paroli tells me, referring to the "Imperialist State of the Multinational Corporations," a sort of dystopian future that sees corporations override government and impose decisions at the loss of workers' rights.

As the chat gets political, Incerti joins us.


"It's not easy to interview her, she never talks about those days," jokes her son, Elvio. I ask her if she is angry with her cousin for bringing 100 soon-to-be-terrorists to her restaurant. Her answer is a graceful smile followed by a nod.

"Not really," she says. "At least they paid their bill."

But as I persist with further questions, Incerti stands up and walks to another table.


"I never killed anyone," Paroli tells me out of the blue, almost anticipating my question "I took part in an assault of the Monferrato Prison to liberate Curcio [the leader of the Red Brigades] and in another one against a FIAT plant to seize management documents and distribute them around, nothing more. Then in mid-1975 I was put in jail and that was the end for me."

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There is sadness in Paroli's words. He doesn't say it explicitly but I get the impression that he would not repeat history if given the chance. The memories from those days are such a large part of his world.

"The other day a group of Germans contacted me. They are interested in the Red Brigades and want to come and see Da Gianni," he says. "Incredible as word of this place and meeting gets around, I can't really explain."

Only time will tell whether the restaurant that started it all will become an attraction for post-1968 nostalgia.