A gleaming new National Stadium has just been erected in Warsaw, Poland. It stands in a historic spot, on the former grounds of Stadion Dziesięciolecia (“Tenth Anniversary Stadium”, named for ten years of Poland’s new political state), built from the rubble left by the 1944 Warsaw Uprising and pictured above prior to its demolition.
Designed by renowned Polish architect Jerzego Hryniewieckiego and built in a little over a year, the bowl-shaped stadium was opened in 1955 with a capacity over 70,000, and became a regular spot for big games, athletics and significant state events.
In its final years, Stadion Dziesięciolecia was left derelict.
Stadion Dziesięciolecia has a rich history worth remembering, one that extends beyond the games played there, though it featured some notably memorable ones. In 1961, during a poor period for the Polish national team, Poland surprisingly defeated the Soviet Union – reigning European champions at the time – at Stadion Dziesięciolecia, 1-0, thanks to a goal by the fantastic Polish forward Ernest Pohl. A rough foul on the Polish goalkeeper sparked a riot as the ambulance pulled away, bottles and umbrellas raining onto the field, and the Soviet players were attacked by a mob as they left the pitch.
In 1968, it was the location for Ryszard Siwiec’s self-immolation in protest at the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, and Poland’s participation in the Warsaw Pact. He set himself alight during a Harvest Festival at the stadium, with almost 100,000 people present.
Six years later, the stadium featured in a 1974 Polish movie, Chleba naszego powszedniego.
In 1983, Stadion Dziesięciolecia hosted its last official sporting event, a match between Poland and Finland. The same year Pope John Paul II held mass at the stadium. News reports suggested that somehow, more than a million Poles crammed in and around the stadium, a pivotal moment for the Solidarity movement as the stadium rang with chants for Lech Walesa and with illicit banners supporting the banned independent union flooding the stands.
In 1989, the stadium was leased by a Polish entrepreneur at the vanguard of Polish capitalism, Bogdan Tomaszewski. He turned the area around the stadium into Europe’s largest street market — Jarmark Europa — a great place to pick up a bootleg VHS, “Leevis” jeans or Russian cigarettes. In 1993, the New York Times reported from the market: “Loudspeakers blared out prices, vendors strolled through the preoccupied crowd with pretzels and sausages, and everywhere was the pressing horde of hawkers, selling used wrenches, plastic flowers, briefcases, packets of lace panties, Soviet army hats, umbrellas, vodka, tape recorders, boots, plastic toy tanks and windshield wipers.”
The stalls numbered some 4,000 around the stadium, taking in a million customers a month, divided by ethnic area, with the Russians occupying the least desirable spots, but flooding there nonetheless, heated haggling dominating the atmosphere, according to Matthew Brzezinski’s Casino Moscow. Some kind of order was kept by the 100+ security guards Tomaszewski had hired to patrol the market that ringed the crumbling stadium.
The stadium’s field itself became known as a good place to catch a casual game of football, but nothing more to suggest use of its original purpose. Now, it is a memory.
Albeit, a memory replaced by spectacular gleaming steel and glass, one the world will see when Warsaw’s new National Stadium hosts the opening game of Euro 2012 in June.