Temples of The Cult: The Renato Dall’Ara in Bologna

We all know the typical architecture of a stadium: The main stands, the side stands (curve in Italian), a running track in some cases, the turf, perhaps a roof. Most football grounds in the Italian Stivale share these elements. But, if we mention a tower, erected in the middle of the stadium, emerging from behind the stands, then we can only be talking about one facility: The Renato Dell’Ara Stadium.

The Dall’Ara is located in the city of Bologna, within the Costa Saragozza district, where the oldest university in the western world was established. Founded in 1088, within its walls the likes of Dante Alighieri, Petrarch, Thomas Becket, and Nicolaus Copernicus studied.

It is recognized as the first proper stadium in Italy and has served as a model from its creation onwards. Its construction began in 1925 when King Victor Emmanuel III symbolically laid the first stone. A year later it was inaugurated with great celebrations by Benito Mussolini in front of thousands of supporters. There were still parts to be finished, but the dictator’s need to unveil this symbol of the victory of fascism and the greatness of his regime was such that he could not wait any longer.

Obviously, none of the unfinished parts could be seen in the official photos of the event, but the fact that one more year passed between the inauguration of the ground and its first match say a great deal about how plans were probably a little loose.

An aerial view of the original Littoriale Stadium in Bologna, before it became known as Dall'Ara
An aerial view of the original Littoriale Stadium in Bologna, before the construction of its iconic tower and the dedication to Renato Dall’Ara

The stadium was marked by tragedy from the start: At the end of its inauguration, a failed gunshot almost took the life of dictator Mussolini. A young man of just 15 years old named Anteo Zamboni was apprehended and identified by a cavalry officer and lynched on the spot by the fascist crowd. The young man’s true guilt was never proven, nor were his alleged anarchist ideology and motivations.

An interesting fact (if any can be named in such a tragedy): The officer who identified Zamboni was the father of a man who would later become one of the most famous Italian film directors, as well as a fanatic of calcio and the Bologna club: Pier Paolo Pasolini.

On May 29, 1927, the first game was played at the stadium – which was still called Stadio Littoriale – in front of about 55000 people. It was a friendly match between Italy and Spain, which resulted in a victory for the locals. The following Sunday, the Rossoblu of Bologna also made their debut in their new stadium with a win: A lone goal by Giuseppe Martelli earned them the two points (only two points were awarded for a victory back in the days) against Genoa in a campionato match.

Two years later, the most characteristic feature of the stadium was inaugurated: La Torre di Maratona (“Tower of Marathon”). It was a project by architect Giulio Ulisse Arata aimed at symbolizing the resistance of sportsmen and women. The tower is 42 meters high and its base is 42 meters wide. It also houses a gigantic antenna for radio broadcasts, which serves as a support to raise the Italian flag on national holidays.

 The "Tower of Marathon"- the most distinctive landmark of the Dall'Ara Stadium in Bologna (and perhaps a unicum across all football stadiums worldwide...) was built in 1935 (Photo: © Giorgio Benevenuti)
 The “Tower of Marathon”- the most distinctive landmark of the Dall’Ara Stadium in Bologna (and perhaps a unique feature across all football stadiums worldwide…) was built in 1929

Like for many other stadiums from those days, at the end of World War II in 1945, its fascist-related name was changed into Stadio Comunale – and so it was called until 1983 when it was dedicated to the most beloved president of Bologna Renato Dall’Ara.

The end of the war and the fall of fascism did not only affect the name of the stadium. The cheering crowd destroyed the symbols of the regime throughout the city, including the statue of Mussolini placed on the Torre di Maratona. The head of the statue was dragged through the streets of Bologna, while the horse remained in its place, without Mussolini’s body, but with the boots still in the stirrups. Five years later, it was completely removed from the tower and used by sculptor Luciano Minguzzi to make two partisan statues currently lying next to the Porta delle Lame city gate.

It was during Renato Dall’Ara’s 30-year-spanning presidency that Bologna achieved the climax of their history, winning the Scudetto five times. Dall’Ara, however, could not manage to see the last one in 1964, as sadly he passed away just three days before the decisive match against Inter.

Bologna’s history is similar to those of many mid-level historical clubs in Italy. A good past, embellished by several Italian titles (seven in the case of the Rossoblu) and Coppa Italia wins, and even a few international tournaments like the defunct Mitropa Cup, but they were diluted over time.

Their last Scudetto win came in 1964, the last Coppa Italia in 1974, and not much has happened since then. On the contrary, the club had to suffer relegation to the Serie C1 (the old third division) twice between the ‘80s and the ’90s and even went through a re-foundation. Bologna have however bounced back fast, rising back to the Serie A, winning the Intertoto Cup in 1998 and then proceeding to reach the UEFA Cup Semifinals – led by two legendary players like Roberto Baggio and Giuseppe Signori. After suffering a few more sporadic relegations, the Rossoblu have been a stable presence in the top flight mid-table for some years now.

Most sections of the stands of the Renato Dall'Ara Stadium in Bologna have now been painted in red and blue - the colors of the local club (Photo: https://www.wildlab.it/portfolio-item/docufilm-mi-chiamo-renato/)
Most sections of the stands of the Renato Dall’Ara Stadium in Bologna have now been painted in red and blue – the colors of the local club

The ultras of Bologna have made the Curva Nord (“North Stands”) of the stadium their location. The Rossoblu fans refer to it as the Curva Andrea Costa from the name of the street that runs alongside it. Since May 2009, however, the section has been officially dedicated to former Bologna player, captain, and local champion Giacomo Bulgarelli – who won a European title with the Azzurri in 1968.

On the opposite side, the Curva San Luca (“Saint Luke Stands”) are positioned in the direction of the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Saint Luke. In 2017, this part was renamed after Hungarian coach Árpád Weisz, who was recruited by the Rossoblu in 1935 with the goal of breaking Juventus’ domination over the Serie A. Not only did he succeed, but he also became one of the few coaches to win at least two consecutive titles in Italy. Weisz’s end was tragic, unfortunately, as he was persecuted and eventually executed by the Nazis due to his Jewish origins.

The city of Bologna is fantastic: Known as La Dotta (“The Erudite One”) for its academic tradition, full of history and culture, it also boasts an enviable culinary tradition. However, it is the people that make it an exceptional city. Those same people who faithfully go to the stadium every weekend – despite knowing that perhaps this will not be the year of the Scudetto either – because they have a long and hard-earned history to be proud of.

Click Below to Visit Some More Temples of The Football Cult:

The San Paolo Stadium in Napoli
The Luigi Ferraris aka Marassi
The Stadio Olimpico in Rome

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