With a capacity of 220 000 spectators, the Strahov Stadium is currently the largest stadium in the world. It was built in 1926 to host specialized all-age gymnastics festivals known as slets. These activities were part of the Sokol movement, an organisation founded in 1862 in the Czech region of Austria-Hungary. The Sokol (meaning falcon) was based upon the principle of ‘a sound mind in a strong body’. Through lectures, discussions, and group outings, Sokol provided what was viewed as a physical, moral, and intellectual training for the nation. Though officially a nonpolitical institution, Sokol provided a forum for the spread of nationalist ideologies that brought about the independence of the Czechoslovak Republic in 1918.
The original stadium was designed by architect Alois Dryák in 1926. The total stadium area is 63 thousand square meters, equaling approximately nine football pitches. At its peak, 16,000 to 33,000 people were being trained in the stadium with audiences of 137,000 spectators. During the Second World War, the stadium was used by the Nazis to temporarily host Jews prior to transportation. With the establishment of the Communist regime following the Second World War, the stadium was once again used for totalitarian propaganda. There the Communist party hosted regular celebrations of the regime called Spartekiads. These were mass gymnastics events to celebrate the 1945 liberation of Czechoslovakia by the Red Army.
After the fall of the Communist regime, the building was abandoned and left in disrepair.
There were intentions to demolish the stadium but these were eventually decided against.
In 1998, the City of Prague concluded a contract with the Czech-Moravian Football Association for a 50-year free loan with the Strahov Union, beginning construction of the National Football Stadium. Unfortunately, the project collapsed, and the contract was cancelled next year. In July 2002, a lease agreement was signed on the Sparta Prague Football Club which opened its training area with eight playgrounds and a modern office building in 2003. The stadium, which has relatively complex ownership status, serves a select few, mainly the Sparta football club. Since March 2003, the stadium has been on the list of cultural monuments but currently has very limited use.
The stadium hosted several concerts including Rolling Stones (127 000 people), Pink Floyd (115 000) or U2 (80 000). In 2017, a student Veronika Indrová suggested in her master theses to use transform the stadium into residential apartments with a public park in the middle.
TEXT BY BARBORA SLAVÍČKOVÁ
1948 Sport Stadium
2018 Sport Stadium
2018 The city of Prague
Form of government
1926 Parliamentary Republic
2018 Parliamentary Republic
Spatial Planning Agency
Type of heritage and protection
2018 UNESCO site, from March 2003
Interview with Bláža
B: I don´t know.
EP: And you said, you have been there three times.
B: Four times actually.
B: At the beginning as teenager, than with Ms. Fičáková as she rehearsed for it, and the last time at Rošický´s stadium, it was in 1990.
EP: Was it difficult to get to Sparakiada? Was it prestigious?
B: I think it was, but because Ms. Ferčáková was district chief, so we always got there.
XX: Because it was always rehearsed perfectly.
B: I even went to demonstrate it in front of some women, at Hoštek and somewhere like this.
EP: How did you prepare? Did you go exercise?
B: Yes, every week. We were devoted.
EP: How many of you were in group?
B: I don´t really remember, it is a long time ago. How many? 20? They even selected women. Said that you will not come and women started to … I was really….
EP: And then you have been practicing with people from other districts when you had rehearsed your part.
B: Yes, then we went to Bor, when Ms. Kadrnožková was replaced, to Tachov. and then after rehearses, and then part, as they had those figure quotas, went to Prague.
EP: And you came to the stadium by bus, or how did you get there? Do you remember?
B: Probably by train? I don´t remember. And we slept there in gyms.
XX: you didn´t sleep at Strahov?
B: We didn´t sleep at Strahov. Someone maybe did.
EP: Did you change there?
B: Yes, we changed there.
EP: Because I think these were only for changing.
B: But we slept in gyms in schools on spartakiad folding beds. Women used to go to see some culture and so. And once one came, fell of the bed and all the gym woke up. There were luggages I t was terrible. Panties hanging all around.
EP: Could you describe how it was when you came to the stadium?
B: I liked it really lot and I like to reminisce about it. It was terrible when we were standing there for three hours, fainting there. When they were lining us up. It was terrible, well, but there was no other way.
EP: How did the lining up worked? do you remember.
B: There was all the time someone waving, Mr. Stehlík, from chief stages and groups were somehow sorted and named. Simply, we were standing in the middle and we went through the main gate of the stadium. It was enormous pride. If I saw spartakiada today, I would cry all the time.
XX: When we were in Kopřivnice in August, I called you that there live stream, but is was “Všesokolský slet” meeting of all Sokols. It was anniversary of those meetings and they were exercising and it was like spartakiad, because Spartakiad evolved from these “Slets”. It just changed back to “Všesokolský slet”. It was smaller, at Spartakiad there were thousands….
B: Crazy number of people was exercising there.
EP: And many people were watching you.
B: Many people. It was the biggest stadium at the world, wasn´t it? Or is?
EP: What do you think should be done with the stadium?
B: I don´t know. I don´t think there is use for it today. maybe for some concerts. I don´t know if they are there. There were Nedvěd´s long time ago.
EP: It is really huge; I think there is a football center of Sparta or Slavia football club.
B: Yes, there are some playing fields. But it will be just small part of it. But I think it is in really bad condition, from outside, really bad. I don´t know how it could be used today. I don´t know where concerts are organized, where Sokols have their meetings.
Interview with Veronika Indrová
OK: I think that will be enough. I'll take it like this.
VI: Good, good…
OK: I think it's good when there's always an underline…
VI: Under that…
OK: So ..
VI: But it's already getting it, isn't it?
OK: It's already recording… I wanted to ask the first thing if you lived in the Strahov dormitories?
VI: Yeah, I lived there the first semester when I was at the Faculty of Architecture of the Czech Technical University, it was a scary experience… I only lasted half a year. The dormitories are actually in a desolate state as well, even though they have undergone some reconstruction now, but in fact the first impression was quite scary when I came… There are such wide corridors where the Spartakiad practitioners lined up, that's why the corridor is so wide and then the others parts are a bit small.
OK: And what was the first impression of the stadium itself?
VI: Actually, when I went there for the first time, I climbed a staircase, in fact, I've never been there legally… I always climbed a fence or railing there. And I was very impressed by the walkway under the south stand when I climbed the stairs and saw the colonnade, because in fact the sun was shining and the columns cast a shadow, so it was very spectacular… And then another big impression was when I climbed up the grandstand and I saw the large open stadium, it's definitely an experience. And a view of the city from that particular southern grandstand. Because it's very high, so the view is beautiful.
OK: And was that a bit of a reason why you did it in your diploma thesis? Or what exactly was the reason?
VI: Well, the specific reason was that the supervisor of the diploma thesis teased me a little, because he believed that I could do it somehow. I was afraid of the subject, but in the end I decided to focus on it. I guess I somewhat made a decision myself and after that visit I made a final decision.
OK: What do you think makes the Strahov stadium special? In addition to its impressiveness and size?
VI: Maybe the construction. It is actually special in how simple it is. It was purposeful. Architecturally, in my opinion, there are no exceptional elements, it's about that functionality. And its biggest advantage is in that size. In that the grandstands embrace a huge free space, which from my point of view should be preserved.
OK: And why did you deal with the usability of some rooms, hotels, galleries and some other functions in your diploma thesis? And the park instead of the current playground? Would the project be feasible in the current conditions?
VI: Technically yes. Of course, the work was in the form of a study, so… However, I think so. But if a developer was to enter the project, there would be a problem with the undeveloped space - the park. Therefore, I think that it is feasible, but rather that the investor would be the city or the state. I think that the profitability of such a project would not be interesting enough for developers. However, I thought that it would be larger apartments, which would be more expensive and maybe even the uniqueness of the fact that a person lives in the stadium could be reflected in the price…
OK: And what about the question that it is a cultural monument? What role would this play in any eventual realization? Wouldn't that turn out to be conflicting?
VI: I tried to work with this in such a way that I preserved all the constructions, except for the individual panels that I took to get the sun inside… But I tried to approach it as sensitively as possible, actually because that I like the stadium as it is now… Even the fact that it is raw concrete overgrown with some greenery, which was then reflected in some way in the design… And actually when I defended the work then, there was also a conservationist at the defense speech, and he said that this would be fine for him, this way of working with the monument. But it is a question. However, the interventions are not so great.
OK: Have you ever come across any other project dealing with the protection of monuments, something that would complicate the work?
VI: Probably not… Or sometime in my sophomore year at school, I devoted myself to the revitalization of a listed building in Znojmo, but that's a long time ago. Well, probably not.
OK: Veronica, that's all.