The hidden gem of Florence: the Artemio Franchi Stadium

© Cover image | Matteo Cirenei

Our cities are full of buildings that we are no longer used to looking at. This often happens because they have been there for a very long time, even before we were born. We live next to them, but they are still just a shape on the background of our hectic daily life. This is something happening in Florence every day.

The Florentines live among many stunning monuments that really made architecture’s history. They used to have so much beauty in their eyes that it’s easy to forget something: in this case, the Artemio Franchi Stadium. It won’t have the self-supporting dome of Brunelleschi but still it has a wonderful story to tell. And this is it.

The Artemio Franchi Stadium is a true hidden gem inside Tuscany’s most precious city. Designed by the Italian architect Pier Luigi Nervi it represents the architect’s first work.

Nervi soon became one of the best Italian architects of the twentieth century, especially for innovations in the field of reinforced concrete application, of which he offers a pleasant preview in this stadium initially dedicated to a young Florentine fascist killed for political reasons. The new stadium built in 1930 was commissioned by the president of the newly born Fiorentina the Marquis Luigi Ridolfi da Verrazzano, the works lasted until 1932 with a stadium that could accommodate 39,000 people.

Artemio Franchi Stadium

There are many peculiarities of this building starting with the “D” shape of the plant: strongly desired by the rules imposed by the fascist authorities to pay homage to the Duce, in an all-encompassing exercise of architecture and ideological extremism. It represents a unicum in the world. Then, the extraordinary engineering work of the canopy of the grandstand: with a formal style, with 22 meters overhanging the space and without supports of any kind, so as not to obstruct the complete view of the field.

Architecture and urban planning were fundamental tools in fascist propaganda, expression of that synthesis between modernity and tradition to which the new government looked with particular sympathy and conviction, therefore the project and the works were entrusted to the engineer Pier Luigi Nervi, who graduated in Bologna in 1913 and already distinguished for various works, such as the roof structure of the Alhambra pelota game room (1919-1921) in the Tuscan capital, and in Prato the reinforced concrete structure of the Politeama Banchini (1925).

Artemio Franchi Stadium
© Matteo Cirenei

Other unique features of its kind: the three external spiral staircases and the Marathon Tower, an exquisitely political-propaganda work, with the essential and rational momentum of its 55 meters vertically.

But in the history of this structure there are not only football or athletics matches. A much more singular episode is remembered by many among the audience on 27th October 1954.

On the field there were two teams, Fiorentina and Pistoiese, with very different stories and goals.

Well, during the game, exactly at 2:20 pm, a strange fact happened: all the spectators present, about ten thousand, raise a roar but not for some action on the pitch. The eyes of tens of thousands of fans, in fact, were no longer fixed on the important game that was about to stop before their eyes, but were turned towards the sky where they could see some strange objects in the shape of an egg or, depending on the testimonies reported, of Cuban cigar.

The same players, after a first moment in which they had to understand what it was, literally stopped playing because they were strongly affected by what was happening over their heads. In short: the Artemio Franchi Stadium witnessed a real UFO sighting.

Artemio Franchi Stadium

But what really matters today, in 2020, and that will count even more in 2021, is the preservation of this masterpiece of architectural history.

An Italian state law (just approved as a bipartisan amendment to the Simplification Decree) will allow A.C. Fiorentina (or rather its current ownership) to renovate it in derogation of the Code of Cultural Heritage and “to any declarations of cultural or public interest already adopted, respecting only the specific structural, architectural or visual elements which are strictly necessary for testimonial purposes conservation or reproduction even in shapes and sizes other than the original one “.

ICOMOS, FAI and Pier Luigi Nervi Foundation are doing anything possible to save this monument from demolition, degradation or modification. You can support them signing this petition.

Are you interested about Pier Luigi Nervi’s masterpieces? Have a look at one of the project case studies, Stadio Flaminio!

Are you interested in other endangered buildings? Visit the website “InnovaConcrete 100 from the 20th” to find out more.

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