A work by Neoclassical architect Luigi Canonica who took inspiration from Circo Massimo in Rome, the Civic Arena was inaugurated on 18 August 1807, and still today it is one of the most important sports arenas of the city for its fame and size. The opening ceremony took place in the presence of Napoleon.
The Arena, together with Arco della Pace and Foro Buonaparte, was part of the project to transform the Castle area into a prestigious part of the city.
Today it provides space for up to 30,000 spectators. It is used for sports events, concerts and entertainment. In 2002, it was dedicated to Gianni Brera, a significant tribute by the city of Milan to one of the most important Italian sports journalists.
Miniature naval battles were fought at the Arena, during the so-called “naumachie” in the early 20th century, when the central section was flooded using water from the canals, so that mythological scenes and marine combats could be staged. In winter, the Arena became an enormous skating rink.
On other occasions, various types of races were held: Roman chariot races, circus performances, and riding demonstrations. The Arena was also the stage for the Belle Époque of cycling, with the earliest races and demonstrations in the late 19th century.
Over the last few decades, the Arena has hosted international light athletics events. On 27 June 1973, on what was to prove a historic evening, Marcello Fiasconaro broke the world record for the 800 metres.
The Loggia Reale, Royal Gallery, is fronted by a graceful five-arch portico, looking onto the Arena, with a fine loggia with eight columns of solid pink granite in the Corinthian order.
On the south-east side of the arena, the “Porta Trionfale” (gate of triumph) has two Doric columns on each side, with a pediment that includes a bas-relief by Gaetano Monti depicting the “classical games”.
There are many curious stories about the Arena. For example, there are tales of a performance in which a live whale was present, though in all probability it was a dolphin.
In 1894 and again in 1906, the Arena hosted Buffalo Bill’s “Wild West Show”.
The first Giro d’Italia cycling road race ended at the Arena on 30 May 1909. The winner on that occasion was Luigi Ganna.