The Bežigrad Stadium sits crumbling and sun-drenched on a warm summer evening.  Colourful seating has been removed and there is no sign of any work being carried out.  Huddles of noisy black crows sit around inside in a space now more suitable for wildlife than sports. Trees have fallen and insects can be seen crawling from underneath the classical bricked walls.  Nearby a number of gardens are heavily maintained by local residents and they sit all colourful and cared for in almost total contrast to the stadium just metres away.

On the same side of the stadium 1970’s apartment blocks look down into the run-down, crumbling interiors as bemused by its current appearance as they might be of its future.

With the emergence of the modern Stozice Stadium as a home for Slovenian football, the Bezigrad Stadium now sits unused in the district of the same name just north of the city centre.  Once a location for sport, music concerts and competitive international football it was designed by the esteemed Slovenian architect Jože Plečnik who was born in the city.

Alongside the stadium, he designed a number of famous buildings in Prague, Vienna and Ljubljana many of which are foremost tourist attractions.

Included in that list is the triple bridge in central Ljubljana and the restored Hradčany – a medieval Prague Castle which towers above the Czech capital.

Overview

The emergence of the Bežigrad goes back to the beginning of the 20th century.  Slovenia had seen the emergence of a number of major gymnastic societies which promoted both sporting activities and political issues. One of these was the Czechoslovak youth sports association the ‘Orel Society’; a Catholic organisation which focused on sporting gatherings.

The Orel Society’s stadium was built between 1925 and 1941 to a design outlined by Jože Plečnik and it soon became Ljubljana’s Central Stadium.

From a footballing perspective in 1945, it became the home of NK Enotnost a club that would later become NK Olimpija Ljubljana in 1962.  During the period of Slovenia is a constituent republic of Yugoslavia the ground was used mostly for football matches as the club participated against the big names of Yugoslav football.  Later, after Slovenia became an independent country in 1991, it hosted matches of the Slovenian national team including the successful campaign which culminated in the Slovenia team qualifying for Euro 2000.

The Bezigrad Stadium is characterised by open terraces and benched seating.  The Stadium is enclosed by a distinctive brick wall and columns which reflected Plečnik’s distinctive style.  On one side an erected memorial column topped with a statue called The Windmill or Vetrnica vetrov still exists yet like the rest of the stadium this column is fading in terms of its structure and appearance.  In truth, the column is near to collapse.

Revitalisation

By the late 1990’s the stadium had become outdated and undersized for the needs of a modernising football nation.

FIFA and UEFA, the international governing bodies of the game, began warning the Nogometna zveza Slovenije or NZS that the stadium no longer met its standards for international football games and the Slovenian team eventually moved many of its matches to the stadium in Celje.  By 2004 the stadium of NK Celje had replaced the Bežigrad Stadium as the venue for all competitive home matches of the Slovenian national football team.

Since 2008 the stadium has found itself empty, vandalised and awaiting signs of restoration. A group of Slovenian businessmen have promised that the stadium would be modernised and its interiors developed while retaining Plečnik’s unique architecture shapes.  But firm plans or investment has never come to fruition and question marks remain of what will happen.

Moreover, the shapes the ground were once noted for have crumbled even more as the years have progressed meaning its distinctive style while still noticeable is fading.

What the future holds for the Central Stadium almost certainly involves a new programme of urban change with a recent view being that a new dynamic landscape of a public park will be created.  It is hoped that various aspects of the original stadium design will be built into any new park.

Any visitors today to the Bežigrad district will stumble upon a derelict stadium that has suffered years of neglect. But within that neglect still, sits unique architectural forms featuring the most characteristic examples of the interwar years.

These, it is hoped, will be built into any new urban space.

With communist forms disappearing and new modern design ideas coming to the fore a commitment to restoring classical architecture is high on the list of city aims. But this approach is more relevant to the more familiar architectural creations of Plečnik’s most of which sit in the city centre of Ljubljana.

With the development of the modern Stožice Stadium sports complex, the City Municipality of Ljubljana invested heavily towards making sporting facilities more accessible to city residents.  The Bežigrad Stadium has become shabby to such an extent that it is unlikely it will be redeveloped as football or sports stadium such is the lack of interest in football in the city.

While Maribor to the east is well known for its football leanings the same can not be said for Ljubljana with the local club Olimpija Ljubljana going out of business in 2005.

The current NK Olimpija club – Športno Društvo Nogometni Klub Olimpija Ljubljana – is said to be the continuation of the former club but the two are not connected as far as the ruling association or local law is concerned.  The reformed club was originally named NK Bežigrad and started back in the fifth level in 2005 before reaching the top of the Slovenia game after successful promotions.

Thanks in part to the funding of the Serb Milan Mandaric the current club were Slovenian champions in 2016.

Sadly what was once a unique urban form is now an out of date space that is in dire need of a programme of revitalization. But with fresh infrastructure and green landscapes surrounding it, perhaps the Bezigrad Stadium can have a place in the city’s thoughts again if not for footballing purposes.

You can see images from Ljubljana here.