Lo stadio di Firenze: Artemio-Franchi

The soccer stadium Antonio-Franchi

Florence has been arguing for years over the “old”Artemio-Franchi soccer stadium: whether to restore, refurbish or rebuild; what to do with the cherished, but aging, site of so many soccer and cultural dramas. It seems that a decision may have finally been made. First off, I said “old”because it dates to almost a century ago. The project in fact dates to 1929. Planed by engineer Pier Luigi Nervi and Giocchino Mellucci, building proceeded between 1930 and 1932, in the area of Campo di Marte where once there had been an airfield. The association “Calcio Fiorentina” (Florentine Soccer), which then became simply “Fiorentina”, had been founded in 1926, and its first president, Luigi Ridolfi da Verrazzano, took the decision to buid the stadium. But, has it always been called Artemio Franchi? And who was Artemio Franchi? Initially the stadium was christened “Giovanni Berta”, after thug of the Fascist period who had been killed by a group of communists in 1921. After the war and the fall of Fascism it was reconsecrated under the uncontroverial name “Comunale” (of the City), name which stuck until 93 when it was finally rebaptized in memory of Artemio Franchi, president of the sporting bodies FICC and of the UEFA.

Realized in reinforced concrete, at the time a futuristic new material which allowed the construction of vast structures at relatively low cost, it was built to contain 45,000 spectators, and set back the city 6,500,000 lire. The structure incorporated innovative elements such as the elicoidal stairs, and Fascist elements such as the Maratona tower, which for historical reasons are considered non-modifiable. Moreover, the drainage systems were considered amongst the best in Europe of the time. Its structure suggests the form of a D, considered by some to be a reference to “Dux” to Mussolini the Duce. Curiosity: 21 year old Bruno Neri, number three of the Fiorentina, at the inauguration of the stadium was the only player amongst the 22 who, in the presence of the Fascist leaders, refused to give the Fascist salute! In 1943 he entered the ranks of the partisans, fighting the Nazi occupation, and was killed, alongside the commander of his Brigade in 1944.

Artemio Franchi has always been a point of reference for the Italian National championships, but, from the 70s to the present it has also been the site of memorable concerts. For instance, on the 10th of September 1979 Patti Smith played before 50,000 spectators; in the 80s and 90s The Clash and David Bowie, and in 2003 Bruce Sprigsteen.

Engraved on the memory of the city is a UFO sighting: 27 of October 1954, above what was still known as the “Stadio Comunale”, in the presence of 10,000 onlookers, during a friendly between Florence and Pistoia, the match was actually suspended. Testimonies tell us of unidentified objects of a whitish hue which moved from Northwest to Southeast, and that after these apparitions in the heavens there followed, for about a half hour, a rain of sticky whitish filiments of an unknown material.

But there are still other curiosities insidee the stadium. For instance, just a few meters from the Maratona tower, close to the guest sector there is a shrine in honour of the Martyrs of Campo di Marte, five youths executed in 1944 by the soldiers of the RSI “Italian Social Republic” for having refused to be drafted by the Repuclic of Salò. Every year a Mass is celebrated in the Stadium in remembrance of this drammatic event, and crowns of Laurel are offered at the monument.