The Artemio Franchi Stadium in Florence is more than a simple playing ground. Fiorentina’s home turf is considered an architectural masterpiece of the ‘30s, a clear example of Italian Rationalism, a combination of aesthetic refinement and structural rigor. A stadium that lives up to the beauty of the city it belongs to.
Originally named Stadio Giovanni Berta, after a young Florentine fascist martyr, it was renamed Stadio Comunale di Firenze after World War II. The current name was given to it in 1983, in honor of the former chairman of Fiorentina and the Italian Football Federation.
The stadium was carried out between 1929 and 1932. The project of its construction was promoted by the Comune of Florence, through the initiative of Marquis Luigi Ridolfi Vay da Verrazzano. Engineer Pier Luigi Nervi oversaw the design, while the main entrance was planned by Alessandro Giuntoli.
This main entrance is quite peculiar as it looks more like the entrance to a municipal building than to a football stadium. However, it embodies quite well what Rationalism wanted to represent. Other characteristic features of this venue are the futuristic spiral staircases to access the bleachers, the cantilever roof without central supports, and the Torre di Maratona (“Marathon Tower”) on the opposite side of the grandstands.
In addition, the tier-supporting structure of the Artemio Franchi is visible and not covered by any facade. This way, the architect managed to significantly lower the construction cost (which was half of what it took to build the contemporary Littoriale in Bologna). These elements made this venue one of the most famous and praised in Italy.
If you see a picture from above the stadium, you’ll notice that it has a very particular D-shape. There are many myths about that choice: According to many, the D is a homage to the Duce (the “Dux” – that’s how Benito Mussolini styled himself). That wouldn’t seem unlikely considering the multiple Mussolini’s figure-enhancing examples in the architecture of those days, especially in sports (See the Renato Dell’Ara Stadium in Bologna and the Olimpico in Rome pieces for more examples).
Another theory is that this unusual shape is due to the plot in the Campo di Marte area being too small for the original project. Rumor has it that, shortly before the construction works began, Marquis Luigi Ridolfi would approach the ground at night and slightly move the posts that delimited it to enlarge it.
However, the most likely reason is that a D-shape was the best way to include a running track and fit the slightly longer straight that is used for some events such as the 110-meter hurdles. The Comune’s commission demanded it as they wanted to build not only a football field but also a larger sports center.
The opening match was played on September 13, 1931, between Fiorentina and the Austrian side Admira Vienna. It ended with a 1-0 victory for the local team. You may have noticed that we mentioned the stadium was not finished until 1932. Indeed, when the match was played, construction works were still ongoing. That was not unusual back in the days, where safety was perhaps not as much a priority as nowadays.
Since its construction, the Artemio Franchi hosted the 1934 World Cup, the 1960 Olympics, and the 1968 European Championship (and even the first of two visits by the Pope to the city).
But it is, as usual, with the approaching of the 1990 World Cup that the stadium went through a major remodeling. The restructuring, in this case, was confronted with some significant problems: On one hand, it was necessary to adapt the stadium to the current international standards – considering that almost 50 years had passed since its construction. On the other hand, the Artemio Franchi stands could not be altered as they were considered a national artistic heritage.
The solution was that, instead of raising the stands, the project team lowered the ground and gained room from the field by removing the running track. In addition, the drainage system was remodeled and turned into what is still considered one of the best in the continent.
This remodeling was not to everyone’s liking, however, as several critics called it a massacre of the city and one of its monuments. Objectively, the works improved some aspects but accentuated others. The D-shape still doesn’t allow fans sitting on certain areas to have enough visibility of the field and only a part of the stands are covered with a roof in a city where it often rains, especially in autumn.
Also, despite the space gained by removing the running track, the stands behind the goals are still very far from the field. The stadium capacity was decreased, rather than enhanced, for security reasons.
On top of his sports-related significance, the stadium was also the stage of multiple historical events, the most tragic being the execution of the Martyrs of Campo di Marte. In March 1944, a group of young people was arrested on suspicion of belonging to partisan groups and, as they refused to join the fascist armies, were publicly shot in front of the Torre di Maratona. Every year, in March, a tribute is held in honor of them.
Another situation, less tragic and more bizarre, took place in 1954 when, during a match between Fiorentina and Pistoiese, the whole stadium suddenly fell silent. According to those present (including the players), a shiny egg-shaped object appeared in flight, causing an unimaginable stir. The match was suspended, according to the referee’s report, “because the spectators saw something in the sky.”
Scientists would eventually conclude that what people had seen were spiders moving through the air via a common, but little known phenomenon, known as ballooning. Even so, several of the present refuse to this day this explanation and continue to claim that they clearly saw a UFO.
As of today, the Artemio Franchi might not be the most suitable stadium to watch a football game. But, despite all its shortcomings, this ground has been a regular match venue for more than 80 years and has seen many Fiorentina footballing successes (two Serie A titles, six Coppa Italia, one Supercoppa, and even three European titles).
Players like Gabriel Batistuta, Manuel Rui Costa, Alberto Gilardino, Luca Toni, Predrag Mijatovic, and Roberto Baggio have all worn the Viola jersey and stepped this lawn – which is the largest in Italy in terms of size.
Florence is a place to visit at least once in a lifetime so, while at it, why not taking a short detour and a look at what can be rightly considered a remarkable monument in one of the most charming cities in the world?
Click Below to Visit Some More Temples of The Italian Football Cult:
The San Paolo Stadium in Napoli
The Luigi Ferraris aka Marassi in Genoa
The Stadio Olimpico in Rome
The Renato Dall’Ara Stadium in Bologna
The San Nicola Stadium in Bari
The Renzo Barbera or La Favorita in Palermo
The Ennio Tardini Stadium in Parma