Prague’s iconic stadium on its last legs


Czech Republic Strahov Stadium Image: MJR Group Ltd./Coliseum

The Great Strahov Stadium in the Strahov district of Prague, Czech Republic – once considered to be the largest football stadium of all times – is gradually becoming dilapidated.

The facility which can sit 250,000 spectators was built for display of synchronized gymnastics on a massive scale, with a field three times as long as and three times as wide as the standard Association football pitch.

Refurbishment work is the need of the hour and the future use of the majestic venue is shrouded in uncertainty. However, the arena is in constant use as training center of Czech football club AC Sparta Prague.

The stadium is falling into a state of ruin for many years now. Sparta Prague is only utilizing the central space (where up to nine fields could be fitted, presently limited to seven), while the auditorium is in ramshackle.

As the City of Prague entirely owns the stadium, authorities are now trying to figure out how best the iconic venue can be employed. Though it was speculated for years now that Sparta could take over the entire stadium, but the same has not materialized.

The ruling coalition in the Czech Republic is pondering on a different employment of the non-football part of the facility. The north and east stands could be spruced up to lodge the museum of 20th century totalitarianism. The stadium location is considered to be a perfect fit for the cultural project and will not just be a random pick. After the Prague uprising of 1945, the stadium has served as internment camp for Nazis and is witness to the brutality and war crimes.

Setting up a museum in Strahov would augur well for the area which would see more activities. In four years’ time, it is expected that a tram line would be extended precisely to the facility.

Early estimates reveal that the stadium’s redecoration work could cost more than CZK 1.2 billion (€44m). This price tag is exclusive of the planned museum construction works, and only entails the concrete structure upgrade.

The legendary arena went on stream in the year 1926 and became famous for being able to hold up to 250,000 people, though less than 60,000 seated. It was used for mass gatherings for over a decade, before World War II (WWII) reshaped Europe. Under Soviet occupation it still served its purpose, which ended only after the fall of USSR.

Drive-in cinema

The space near the Great Strahov Stadium is being put to good use, with a brand-new drive-in cinema. Able to fit in 120 cars, it is the largest drive-in cinema in Prague. Apart from film screenings, various cultural events will also take place here during the summer.

Sunloungers will be placed in front of the screen for movie buffs who do not come in their own private vehicles. The organizers are ensuring that all social distancing and safety measures are in place due to the coronavirus situation.

According to the main organizer, Jakub Dostál, Strahov is the ideal location for drive-in movies in Prague. Dostál and his co-founders came up with the idea of a drive-in cinema as they felt that the space had a thrilling ambience and sat well for movies. The project also follows the tradition of drive-in movies in Strahov, since the largest drive-in cinema in the Czech Republic in 1999 was right inside the Great Strahov Stadium.

“It occurred to us that the space in the heart of Prague has become a bit abandoned and desolate over the years, and we wanted to change that,” Dostál pointed out.

Films will be screened in the drive-in movie theater Autokino Strahov in Prague daily from 9pm until the end of September. Admission is 350 CZK per car to the summer season opening, as well as for all other screenings and cultural events during the summer.

The organizers are leaving no stone unturned to ensure that social distancing is maintained and safety rules followed. Leaving vehicles on the premises is prohibited until further notice, unless absolutely necessary. A distance of two meters between cars must also be maintained.

Due to the restrictions in place, the current capacity of Autokino Strahov is 120 cars. However, in the future there lies the scope to increase the same.

Great Strahov Stadium rewind

The field of Great Strahov Stadium has never been suitable for staging football games. Earlier, the stands were not as large as they are now – most were raised on artificial hills, few upgraded with wooden structures. But, in the first six years of the ground’s existence all sections for the crowd were replaced by new, larger concrete buildings. By1937, Strahov could accommodate some 250,000 spectators. Crowds could spread across the wide expanse of the venue.

It always used to be full house in Strahov Stadium. Huge military parades as well as gymnastic performances were held until World War II broke out.

Gymnastic feats are held now too, but with Czech Republic becoming a democratic country, the events are not organized on a grand scale since 1990.

Presently, the gymnastic events take place at the nearby Evzen Rosicky Stadium.

The new reality of a democratic country made the venue serve new purposes. Since 1990, the venue has played host to numerous concerts – mostly of celebrated artistes from Western Europe and USA – some of which had attendances well over 100,000 people. As the stadium gradually fell into disrepair, events became less. That’s when local football club Sparta entered the scene and took over the ground – just the playing field. A new training complex with 8 pitches was built and a new administration building also stands.

However, in the last few decades, the concrete stands have not been maintained and despite the building being listed as a part of cultural heritage since 2003, it’s in a woeful state.

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