If you have ever walked past the George Washington Bridge bus station in NYC, no doubt that you will not have made the architectural connection between this concrete structure and the Stadio Artemio Franchi. The unlikely link between the two is that renowned Italian architect Pier Luigi Nervi was responsible for the creation of both. Nervi was pioneering in the use of reinforced concrete in his designs, and in the case of Fiorentina’s stadium, managed to strike the balance between functionality and beauty.
Opened in 1931 and fully completed a year later, the stadium – then named Stadio Giovanni Berta – is a fine example of 20th century architecture. Like the main railway station in the City (Santa Maria Novella), it is an example of the Italian Rationalism architectural movement that was so popular in the 1920’s and 30’s. In Florence, the home of so many treasures of art and architecture, the stadium stands up as a work of art in itself.
Funded by Fiorentina’s first president, Luigi Ridolfi, it is accepted that the Stadio Berta was constructed with one eye on the 1934 World Cup that Benito Mussolini was so keen to host. Berta himself was a fascist who was killed in 1921 in clashes in Pignone by being thrown into the River Arno. Some even go so far as to say that the ‘D’ shape of the ground is in homage to Il Duce.
The new stadium was to host a prestigious quarter final in the World Cup between home nation Italy and Spain. Under the baking hot sun, Italy battled to a 1-1 draw, which in those days led to a replay rather than extra time. Italy sneaked through in the next game thanks to a single Giuseppe Meazza goal; and as you can see from the footage, the hugely iconic Maratona tower is clearly visible.
After World War Two, the stadium was unsurprisingly renamed Stadio Communale which remained until 1993. The stadium survived a strange mass UFO sighting in 1954 and a stand collapse in 1957 until there was a major refurbishment in time for World Cup Italia ’90. The concrete was renovated and the athletics track was removed in order to modernise for the hosting of three group stage games and the quarter final between Argentina and Yugoslavia.
In the modern era, the stadium may be a little tired but still serves to provide an electric atmosphere, despite only having a small roof over the main stand; the roar of the Curva undiminished as it is unleashed into the sky. The Maratona tower is a unique sight in a football stadium, yet plans are in place to move to a new stadium in the Mercafir area of the city. Many teams in Italy must progress towards building a new stadia purely from a financial perspective, but for Fiorentina, leaving behind the history and unique character of the Stadio Artemio Franchi will be a heartbreaking wrench.