Alexandria Stadium – Looks Of Amazement
Last renovation: 2006
Home teams:El-Ittihad, El-Olympi, important national matches
When touring Egypt’s Alexandria Stadium with football officials and media reptesentatives from across the world, it is not uncommon to see looks of amazement on their faces and heat comments like “Oh, it’s a museum”. In fact, the only thing that gives Alexandria Stadium its name is a football pitch and the stands. Other than that it really could be called a museum.
Built in 1929, Alexandria Stadium is the oldest stadium in Egypt. The stadium itself is a magnificent piece of art and a combination of both Egyptian and European talents. It was built for the clubs in Alexandria, the second biggest city in Egypt after Cairo.
At that time, and in fact since the turn of the 20th century, the Mediterranean city of Alexandria had more European inhabitants than Egyptians. Greeks, Italians and Armenians mingled with the locals and lived together until they became Egyptians themselves. Thanks to the large number of immigrants who have called the city their home over the last few centuries, Alexandrian society has always been a mix of diverse cultures. This has created a strong Mediterranean ambiance that is clearly embodied in the distinctive architectural design of its buildings, as well as its Greek- and Italian-style restaurants, shops and coffee houses.
In 1909, Anglo Boulanaky was appointed as a member of the Egyptian Olympic committee. He was ambitious enough to think of bringing the Olympic Games to Egypt in 1916. That did not happen, but it gave birth to the idea of building a stadium that could host both football and athletics events. After selecting the venue, Boulanaky made his proposal to the council of Alexandria, which agreed and appointed its best architect, W. Nicohosoff Bey, in 1911. Sadly, the cost of the stadium was so high that the city council could not afford to build it alone.
Eight years later, in 1919, there was a flood of donations from the Sultan of Egypt, from Prince Omar Touson, from the city council of Alexandtia and from Boulanaky, too. A committee was formed and construction finally began in October 1921. It took almost eight years for the stadium to be inaugurated in a huge celebration witnessed by members of the Egyptian royal family as an Alexandrian team beat a squad from Cairo in the opening match.
COPY IN LOS ANGELES
The stadium boasts ten gates, including Gate 6, also known as “the marathon gate”. According to Ibrahim El-Gewini, a legendary football player, referee and official, the marathon gate of Los Angeles’ Memorial Coliseum is a replica of the marathon gate of Alexandria Stadium.
Part of the arena is the main wall of Alexandria that once surrounded the city. Every time there were new extensions and building projects in the city, part of the wall would be pulled down. When the stadium was being built, the plan was to take down the rest of the wall, but in the end it was decided that part should be preserved as it belonged to the history of the city. As such, spectators attending matches at the stadium can almost feel the history and the era of Alexander the Great whenever they see the wall to the left of the main stand and the first-class area.
After its inauguration, the 22,000-capacity stadium was criticised for being too luxurious and expensive at a time when the world was suffering from the Great Depression. But the money was put to good use. The second floor of the stadium had a gorgeous royal lounge to host the king and members of the royal family who used to attend matches. The stairs leading to the royal lounge were similar to those found in Egyptian royal palaces. The royal lounge walls
… and as it looked then.
are painted white with designs in gold and it also boasts golden French salons. Nowadays, this royal lounge is only opened for VIPs and top state officials. During the latest renovation work in 2006, the royal lounge was repainted but everything else remained the same. A further extension to the stadium led to an indoor complex for basketball, volleyball, handball and the martial arts being built for the 1951 Mediterranean Games in Alexandria.
Alexandria Stadium is home to the clubs El-Ittihad and at times El-Oiympi in the national league and cup matches. It has also hosted many international matches and football events involving the national team as well as some first-round matches in the 1986 Africa Cup of Nations (CAN) and another game in the 2006 CAN.
The stadium has a grass pitch and two dressing rooms for teams, who access the pitch through underground tunnels. There are rooms for referees, doping control, media conferences and a working area. The radio and TV commentators’ boxes are located on the second floor of the stadium and all were recently renovated. When the stadium was renovated for the 2006 CAN, the capacity was decreased from 22,000 to 19,000 as seats replaced benches.
Officials are now working on studying ways of increasing the capacity of the stadium, perhaps even building upper tiers so the stadium can be used for international events once again. All will depend on whether the infrastructure can sustain additional tiers.