Home to around 165,000 inhabitants Braga is an ancient city that sits in the northern reaches of Portugal near the Western tip of Spain. While there have been settlements in Braga for as long ago as 300,000 years, it was under the Romans in 138 AD that Braga’s status was raised to Conventus Juridicus. Named Bracara Augusta the settlement was the capital of Galecia, the Roman name for the region.
In 1096 the city was given to the archbishops by Count Henri de Bourgogne and Teresa of Castille. This inaugurated an ecclesiastical fiefdom that continued to the 18th century.
Since then beauty and opulence have been associated with Braga. A succession of powerful churchmen with influence left a lasting impression on the city. Substantial examples of the city’s beauty, opulence and scale exist ranging from the medieval cathedral to rich Renaissance and Baroque monuments.
This impressive ancient history should not hide the fact that Braga is no stranger to modernity. It is a city with a huge student population and a compact well laid out centre. The ancient and modern live in harmony with many technological innovations leading to the area once being called Portugal’s ‘silicon valley’.
The Estádio Municipal de Braga is one of Braga’s greatest modern monuments. This is a not just a functional building to house football and neither is it just a concrete building with plastic seats. The architect played with creativity and built something that was previously unseen in colour or shape laying down a landmark.
The Portuguese, who play the game so often in colourful spectacular flourishes, very often forgetting that the end product is the goal net at either end of the pitch, were never destined to create stock stadium creations. While the stadiums in Aviero and Leira were known for the interior colours the stadium in Braga was soon known for the adjacent rock face.
Football matches, not settings, made Euro 2004 a huge success and memorable. With the skills of Figo and Ronaldo, it was movement, not architectural splendour that was the main attraction of the tournament. But the tournament is also remembered for the stadiums many of which are some of the best and distinctive in this part of Europe.
Almost 10 years after Euro 2004 we returned to the stadium in Braga to see a wonder of design. Inaugurated on the 28th December 2003 the stadium had cost €29.9 million to build. Its architect was a Portuguese called Eduardo Souto de Moura and is also known as A Pedreira or the Quarry. Recent years have also seen the title the AXA Stadium utilised.
Carved into the face of the adjacent Monte Castro quarry it overlooks the city of Braga.
Stands run only along both sides of the pitch and the drainage system is innovative – important for a city that gets a lot of rain. Behind the goal at one end are the rock walls of the quarry and at the other is an open view over the city sprawling in the distance.
Each stand is covered with a canopy style roof, and both are connected to each other across the pitch by dozens of steel strings, a design said to have been inspired by ancient South American Inca bridges.
Underneath the pitch is a 5,000 sq.m plaza with offices, space for fans and a car park.
You can see our images here.