The building that is not only a sports arena but a historical monument of Santiago is located in the Nunoa district. The Estadio Nacional Julio Martinez Pradanos is the national stadium of Chile. It is the country’s largest stadium with an official capacity of 48,665. Until 5 July 2008, it was known as Estadio Nacional de Chile, before the name was changed to EstadioNacional Julio Martinez Pradanos in honor of the nation’s sports journalist who had died that year.
The stadium is currently hosting the Copa America which Chile is organizing for the seventh time in its history. The stadium was one of the venues for the FIFA World Cup in 1962, when it hosted the final where Brazil defeated Czechoslovakia 3:1. It was renovated several times,with the last time being in 2014 for the South American Games.
Apart from football, the national stadium hosts many international concerts during the year, but let’s start this historical journey from the very beginning.
Few people know that farmer Jose Domingo Canas is the “main reason” why Chile has a national stadium. He donated his farmland in 1918, and the construction began 19 years later. The architecture was based on the Olympiastadion in Berlin, and the stadium was inaugurated on December 3rd 1938. Colo-Colo hosted Brazilian club Sao Cristovao and won 6:3 at the stadium’s first ever sporting event.
In 1955, the stadium was the site of a disaster when nine people died in a stampede during an international match between Chile and Argentina.
We are all accustomed to watching football at stadiums, but in 1959, something different happened– the stadium hosted the final stages of the World Basketball Championship. It was held outdoors because the intended venue, the Metropolitan Indoor Stadium, was not ready in time.
Three years later, Chile was the host of the FIFA World Cup, which meant that the stadium’s capacity had to be increased. The main change was that the velodrome that surrounded the stadium was replaced by galleries, thereby increasing its original capacity to around 95,000. Brazil succeeded in defending the title they had won four years ago, despite the fact that the legendary Pele injured himself during the second match against Czechoslovakia.
Prison – Cold war and coup d’état
Chile’s national stadium became a national monument on 21 August 21,2003. Forty years earlier, just after the Pinochet coup, the National Stadium possessed the largest single prison population in the country. After the coup d’état of September 11th1973 that ousted President Salvador Allende, the stadium became a detention facility.
Eleven days later, in a rather bizarre move to assure both Chileans and the international community that all was well in the stadium, the Junta opened the stadium’s doors to national and international media for an official “tour” of the conditions. As Chilean photographer and journalist Marcelo Montecino and others described, the military’s gesture backfired, as reporters and photographers observed first-hand the soldiers’ cruel treatment of the detainees, as well as the poor state of those held there. Dramatic black-and-white photographs and footage of the prisoners in the stands made their way to international media.
Katherine Hite wrote an article in the Harvard Review of Latin America that “…between 12,000 and 20,000 Chileans and foreigners were detained in the Stadium for periods ranging from two days to two months. The Stadium was no mere holding tank… According to the truth commission report, at least 41 people lost their lives in the Stadium… Locker rooms and corridors were all used as prison facilities while interrogations were carried out in the velodrome… According to the testimonies of survivors collected by the humanitarian group, detainees were tortured and threatened with death by shooting. Some were shot on the premises and then taken to unknown locations for execution.”
Carmen Luz Parot directed and produced the documentary film “Estadio Nacional” which describes the use of the stadium during the coup d’état.
More than four decades after that brutal period, the Estadio Nacional Julio Martinez Pradanos will host the final of the 2015 Copa America.
Chile against Argentina – and we all know who will have the support from the stands.