Temples of The Cult: The Stadio Friuli or Dacia Arena In Udine

Just like for the Cibali we went to the southernmost part of Italy, today we are crossing the country and going to one of its most northern parts. Our destination is Udine, in the Northeastern Region of Friuli Venezia Giulia. Udine features a stadium that, despite not being too old, has undergone a massive refurbishment in recent years, which changed its appearance almost completely. The stadium has two names, an original one – Stadio Friuli – and a more recent one due to sponsorship reasons: Dacia Arena.

Constructions work for the Friuli, led by architects Giuliano Parmegiani and Lorenzo Giacomuzzi Moore, began in 1971 and were completed just five years later.

Prior to that, the city of Udine hosted another football ground. Udine’s team Udinese is one of the oldest in Italy. Although its footballing branch was not opened until the early 1900s, the foundation of the club dates to 1896. The first known field where the team used to play is the now-demolished Stadio Moretti.

This name will ring a bell to beer enthusiasts, because not only was the stadium located very close to the famous Birra Moretti brewery, but it was also owned by the brewing company itself. The field was known for having a race track around it, not for athletics, but for motorcycle races (!)

As time went by, this stadium became small and obsolete, which led the city’s mayor to promote the construction of a new playing ground.

An old image of the Stadio Friuli in Udine before its mid-2010s restructuring and the name change to Dacia Arena

The city’s new stadium was inaugurated in 1976. Originally, there were no plans for a name, but history tragically took care of suggesting one. Only 10 days before the opening match, a strong earthquake hit the Region of Friuli. It was one of the worst earthquakes in the history of Italy in terms of casualties, damages, and areas affected. This led the city council to decide almost unanimously to name the stadium Friuli after the region.

At the time of its opening for a Serie C match between Udinese and Seregno, the stadium was far from being finished. Only the grandstand was covered, while the rest of the stands and tribunes were barely built. It took several more years to finish the rest of the structure, giving it the oval shape it had then.

The Friuli featured a characteristic elliptical arch which covered the grandstand and, of course, a running track around the field. After all, it was meant to be a multisport facility.

It was not until the 1980s that the first major remodeling works were carried out, adding more structure and seats to a large part of the stands. Along with this came another peculiar element: The so-called Cosmo. It was a maxi-screen installed in 1984 above the south stands and broadcasting images before, during, and after the games (although it did not broadcast the games, for obvious reasons). The Cosmo lasted only about 6 years, however, due to a dispute between the company managing the screen and the club.

The most peculiar feature of the Dacia Arena – and the only part that was left unchanged during its latest massive restructuring – is the arch-shaped structure covering the grandstand

As it was still a new and modern stadium, the Friuli was chosen as a venue for the 1990 World Cup in Italy and hosted three group stage matches. Some small works had to be done, but mostly related to the offices, media rooms, and parking.

Then, almost 20 years went by with no additional changes. Udinese became a regular presence in Serie A and reached their highest point during the 2000s when they won the Intertoto Cup and, in 2005, even participated in the Champions League. Some minor changes were necessary to obtain the UEFA license a new and more modern Cosmo was installed, but that was pretty much it. Attendance at the Friuli began to dwindle, mostly because the stadium was by now becoming old, the visibility was not perfect, and most of the stands were not covered – in an area where it rains almost all year round.

The first attempts to remodel the stadium came in the early 2010s. Italy was one of the bidding countries to host the Euro 2016 and the Stadio Friuli was meant to be among the host cities. However, everything fell apart when France was chosen to host the event.

That did not make Udinese give up. It was quite the opposite indeed as, since there were already some plans to renew it, president Giampaolo Pozzo ultimately decided to fully bear the restructuring costs. In 2012 Udinese took charge of the stadium as they rented it from the Comune of Udine for 99 years. That was almost unprecedented in Italy as only Juventus owned their home ground at that point.

This beautiful image of the interior of the Dacia Arena shows how the seat colors do not follow a specific pattern, resulting in a visually stunning mix of colors

The first remodeling plan was subject to major changes in the following months. The final project resulted in the arch of the main stand remaining untouched. Almost everything else was demolished or restructured. The athletics track was removed, the side stands were torn down and rebuilt closer to the field and the grandstands. All the work was done in stages so that the stadium could continue to be used while the restructuring was in progress and Udinese and their fans did not have to move to another city.

The stadium was almost completely roofed and gained a compact, English-style stadium appearance where the spectators are very close to the pitch and whose seat arrangement does not follow a specific pattern but rather results in a chaotic explosion of colors.

The exterior was covered in steel, with diamond-shaped panels that reflect the sunlight by day and are illuminated by night. The only controversial point of the restructuring is something the Friuli shares with many modern stadiums, like the Allianz Arena in Munich or even Juventus’ Allianz Stadium, which bear the name of their sponsor.

When the restructuring was completed in 2016, Udinese gave the venue naming rights to their main sponsor – car company Dacia – turning the Friuli into the Dacia Arena. The Comune of Udine, however, which is still the formal owner of the stadium, did not agree. The controversy was eventually solved – not without going through several litigations – by agreeing that the facility would be called Dacia Arena during Udinese games and retain its original Friuli name on the occasion of any other event.

Be it Dacia Arena or be it Friuli, there’s no doubt about the stadium and its futuristic arch being a jewel for the city of Udine and a fantastic advertisement for the Region it is in, whose name reference was defended to the hilt.


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
The Artemio Franchi Stadium in Florence
The Late Stadio Delle Alpi in Turin
Atalanta’s Gewiss Stadium in Bergamo
The Cibali or Angelo Massimino In Catania
The Stadio Adriatico Giovanni Cornacchia In Pescara