A work by Neoclassical architect Luigi Canonica who took inspiration from Circo Massimo in Rome. It 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.
It was in 1805, the year of Napoleon’s coronation as king of Italy, that the construction of a steady amphitheatre was discussed. It was to be erected in the zone to the south-east of the castle as a substitute for a temporary wooden arena and was to be renovated each year on the 26th June, on the occasion of the national holiday. The works started a year later based on the design of the architect Luigi Canonica. Inspired by the Roman amphitheatres it was to hold 30,000 spectators. It was inaugurated on the 17th August 1807 as the “Amphitheatre” and there were 18,000 spectators present. In 1870, it was handed over to the Municipality of Milan and became known as the “Arena Civica”.
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.