Stadium Hopping in South Africa

Sportive spirit is in the air around the horn of Africa.

South Africa has been upheld as a role model of racial integration following its successful social transition following the abolition of apartheid. Now the nation is this year’s number one sporting destination as it will host the 2010 FIFA World Cup. Nine cities are in full party mode as the excitement builds in the run-up to the games. All are preparing to welcome both ordinary tourists and football fans during the month-full championship or even before it kicks off on June 11.

Of the ten stadiums to stage the matches during the football season five are new and have been recently completed. While all of these are based on a typical stadium design each has distinctive characteristics and will encourage city explorers to visit and add it to their photographic album of the trip. Each building has become their area’s landmark and a proud symbol of what South Africa has achieved over its recent history.

This follows a trend with major sporting events such as the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, China. Here the main stadium, the ‘Bird’s Nest’ has become a new city icon. It is clear that in South Africa the new stadiums in Cape Town, Nelson Mandela Bay/Port Elizabeth, Durban, Nelspruit and Polokwane have already had a similar impact.

Cape Town Stadium, Cape Town

Walkers along the seaside of the Atlantic in Cape Town can easily spot the Green Point Stadium with the Signal Hill as its backdrop. The giant ring-style oval building seems solid from a distance, but it is actually designed with a semi-translucent façade enabling lights to infiltrate from the inside making the building radiate at night.

Catching glimpses of the glowing-in-the-dark structure is still popular among local people even though it has been there for several months since it was officially opened in December 2009. Pick any of the 70,000 seats available and witness a full-angle view of its interior.

Locals still refer to this as Green Point Stadium, which was the name of the old stadium on the same site, rather than the official name ‘Cape Town Stadium’. This massive concrete block is a prominent landmark.

Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, Port Elizabeth

Still on the southern edge of the country, Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium is one of three coastal stadiums built for the games. It is set only a stone’s throw away from the Indian Ocean and is on the shores of the North End Lake.

There is no need to hire a helicopter to witness the unique roof-texture as it can be seen clearly from any of the 46,000 seats. The roof is made up of a series of white ‘petals’ making it look like a flower. This is why the stadium is nicknamed ‘The Sunflower’.

Port Elizabeth built the first stadium dedicated to football at the heart of the city enabling architectural conscious strollers to compare it with the surrounding Victorian and Edwardian buildings that demonstrate a physical timeline of architectural changes dating as far back as the 19th century. The Opera House is a good example of Victorian architecture and is still in use. The city has also the richest collection of Art Nouveau buildings in South Africa.

Durban Stadium, Durban

Go further north along the east coast to find Moses Mabhida Stadium in Durban. The stadium has a grand arch across its void, which was inspired by the country’s flag. The two legs of the arch on the southern side of the stadium merge into one to form a single footing on the northern side. The southern side has a 550-step adventure walk to the top.

A cable car is available to carry visitors from the northern side climbing up along the arch to a viewing platform at the height of 105 metres. From this point, height junkies can see panoramic views of the shoreline, city and roof of the stadium. The roof design looks like an eyelid along with eyelashes. Down below each of the 70,000 seats is spacious and gives a clear line of sight to the pitch.

The building is located in the centre of Kings Park Sporting Precinct featuring further sporting arenas and a pedestrian connecting the complex to the beach. More attractions are found on the beach such as an aquarium built into a sunken ship in the Shaka Marine World. During the championship, Beachfront Fan Park will be a flocking point for football fans to catch the World Cup action on a big screen.

Mbombela Stadium, Nelspruit

In local language Mbombela means ‘many people together in a small place’. But Mbombela Stadium in north-eastern city of Nelspruit is far from small. It has capacity to hold 46,000 spectators under its rounded rectangle roof with its wide-open void.

The concept of the architecture reflects the inter-relation between sport and wildlife as the location is close to the Kruger National Park. On the façade, 18 orange roof steel piles resemble giraffes. The seating bowl inside depicts a zebra pattern in black and white. The translucent roof floats above the top of the seating bowl with a clear six-metre gap to provide views to the surrounding hills.

Peter Mokaba Stadium, Polokwane

Finally going to the northern-most tip of the country where the Peter Mokaba Stadium was just completed earlier this year replacing the old stadium with the same name in the city of Polokwane.

The design is inspired by the locally iconic Baobab tree with the emphasis on a large concrete structure. Sitting on one of the 45,000 seats feels like waiting for a performance in a giant open-air amphitheatre as the roof covers only one side of the seating bowl. Yes, it is the tribune side.

Of course, each city has many other attractions to offer, but at the moment all South African’s energy and spirit belongs to football. They hope people coming to the country will bring the same energy and spirit when they celebrate the first ever World Cup on African soil.

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