Ten years ago exactly, the National Stadium opened its doors to the public for the first time ever.
Now officially known as the PGE Narodowy Kazimierz Górski, the inauguration ceremony, held on January 29th, 2012, included performances by T.Love, Lady Pank and Voo Voo and was followed by a spectacular firework show.
Costing approximately half a billion euros, the stadium was delivered in time for the Euro Championships and was constructed using enough steel for 64 jumbo jets. Lit up at night in the red-and-white colors of Poland, the basket-shaped stadium has since become one of the signature landmarks of modern Warsaw.
Mixing modernity with heritage, key elements include a retractable PVC roof that earned much mockery when the stadium’s operators forgot to deploy it for a storm-hit match against England.
Nevertheless, this high-profile cock-up aside, it remains a grand and mighty place. Holding 58,000, it’s short-life span has already seen appearances from some of the biggest bands in the world – perhaps most famously, the Rolling Stones: to the glee of many, they used their gig to protest against the government’s determination to recalibrate the domestic rule of law.
Other performers have included Madonna, Metallica, Pink Floyd and McCartney, and in all its estimated over 15 million people have filed through the turnstiles of some event or other.
Diverse in its offer, the stadium’s versatility has been reflected by its wide range of events – the last decade has seen wind-surfing competitions, science picnics, a Top Gear meet and speedway.
However, it is for football that the stadium remains best known for. Hosting various domestic cup finals, the PGE has also become the home of the national team who have now played 31 matches on the turf.
Today’s stadium stands on the site of the former Stadion Dziesieciolecia. Opened in 1955 to coincide with the tenth anniversary of the establishment of Communist Poland, Dziesieciolecia was a typical, Eastern European open bowl built from tons of war rubble ferried over from the city’s opposite side. Previously, and prior to the Holocaust, the plot was home to a pre-war Jewish team called Makkabi Warszawa.
Beyond footballing reasons, Dziesieciolecia gained notoriety when a lad by the name of Ryszard Siwiec set himself ablaze to protest against the Soviet invasion of the Czechoslovakia in 1968. Fifteen years later, Pope John Paul II held a mass here for 100,000 people, and as boring as the religious stuff might sound to some, for Poles this was one of those keystone moments that helped unify the country in its battle against Communism.
After the Iron Curtain collapsed, for nearly 20-years this whole place became a crazy market that came to represent the essence of Wild East capitalism.
Known as Europe’s largest outdoor bazaar, it became notorious for its counterfeit goods and heady atmosphere. Nicknamed the Russian Market due to the number of foreign traders, it remains ensconced in local folklore.