Palestra Ricciardi, founded at the beginning of the fifties by Tullio Ricciardi, is certainly one of the first fitness and body building gyms opened in Italy. This page is intended as a tribute to a pioneer of Italian body building and a chance to tell his story.
Tullio Ricciardi, born in Florence in 1929, starts his agonistic activity when he’s 15 years old as a boxer in the flyweight category, winning his first competition after just one week of training. His physique, one could describe it as skeletal (176 cm for 49 kg), exposes him constantly to the spectators’ jeers during his matches, but it doesn’t stop him from fighting and winning on a regional level. After 13 fights, of which he wins 12, he decides to abandon boxing to try one after the other all the sports which might strengthen him up: starting from rowing, swimming and tennis and from there he moves to free form gymnastics in a progression that resembles more a marathon than sports training. When he’s 20 years old his weight rises to 58 kg but also his height has increased to 182 cm. More desperate than pleased, thanks to an American friend, Cyrus Shannon, the English Cemetery keeper at the time, he will make a discovery which will change his life: body building.
After just two years he competes as a weightlifter among the lightweights and, as the papers said, “despite his natural handicap of his slim physique” he manages to place second twice during the Italian Championships, win ENAL’s Italian Championships and the Italian Cup, and add his name to the first 10 lightweights of Italy.
In the meantime his extraordinary physical changes gained the interest of many people and the requests for explanation and advice become more and more numerous. This gives him the idea, timidly at first, to open a small gym which he will call very simply PALESTRA RICCIARDI.
He therefore sets up 2 rooms of his flat, builds himself the equipment and with his first and only client he opens shop on 1° July 1953, starting thus what is Italy’s first gym for body building and for what we nowadays call fitness. After a few years the situation becomes unbearable: the subscriptions are forty, among which true champions, and the equipment would be enough for a hundred but the complaints of the neighbours count in the thousands!
He finds a new location, which for the times was so large and expensive everyone thought he is crazy, and makes the required move. Progress followed by progress: in 1957 he founds the Federazione Italiana di Culturismo (Italian Federation for Culturism) and in 1958 he opens gyms in Milan and Rome to then continue on to Genova, Bologna, Vicenza, Venice, Ferrara, Livorno, Forlì, aiming to give a body building gym to every major city in Italy and to make CONI (Italian National Olympic Committee) recognize body building.
Still in 1957 Tullio Ricciardi began his career as an editor and in January 1959 the first issue of “CULTURA FISICA” came out, the first fitness and body building magazine in Italy and for many years the most important on training.
Passion for a sport, though, is not something that can be forgotten: despite his engagements and his increased responsibilities, his training continues. In 1958 he wins MISTER ITALIA, during the first edition of the most important body building competition on a national level, in a period in which body building did not form outsized and artificial men, but simply beautiful physiques, icons of health and wellbeing.
After Mister Italia, Tullio Ricciardi continues training and dedicates his life mainly to sport management, to managing his fitness centers, first of all the one in borgo pinti in Florence, and to his role as editor for his beloved magazine, CULTURA FISICA.
Today, after 70 years, our objective is to work with the same passion.