Heritage kept alive at Ratchadamnern and National Stadiums
Does sport cohabite well with heritage and history in Thailand? Creating sport facilities in the Thai capital has been often done to the detriment of older historical structures, such as at National Stadium for example. Few will indeed remember that prior to the development of this sport facility along Rama 1, the area was in fact a royal Palace. Deeply in love with urban planning of Britain, Prince Vajiravudh—the future King Rama VI—had a mansion built along this street. With its turrets and brickwork, the structure took its inspiration from the neo-Tudor style so much en vogue in Great-Britain in the early years of the 20th century.
However in 1936, the nationalist government of Prime Minister Field Marshal Plek Pibulsongkram let the palace being demolished to give way to the Supachalasai Stadium. The grand structure was then built in the new architectural style of the time, Art Deco. Giant modern looking garudas stand over the main façade of the stadium which is flanked by seven columns left and right of the main entrance. The severe grandiloquent architecture is largely inspired by the Nationalist style much favoured in the 1930s.
From the original castle there remain only a few excavated pieces of stone and sculpture, which are now displayed in front of the Faculty of Sport building of Chulalongkorn University. Supachalasai Stadium was, at the time of its construction, the largest stadium in Thailand with a capacity of almost 20,000 spectators.
Another pure Art Deco jewel, and a very interesting piece of architectural history, is Ratchadamnern (or Ratchadamnoen) Stadium, a facility dedicated to the sport of Muay Thai. Seen by Field Marshal Phibulsongram as an essential sport to highlight the virtue of courage and defense of Thai people, the sport received what in 1940 could be considered as Bangkok’s most modern facility at that time. From the outside, the volume of the stadium looks rather small, but this is deceiving. It has a total capacity for 5,000 spectators and is today Bangkok last historical original Muay Thai facility. The construction was given in 1941 to an Italian company, Impresse Italiane All’ Estero-Oriente.
When the foundation stone was laid on March 1, the B258,900 project then started. However, the project was halted due to lack of construction supplies and material transportation due to World War II. The construction resumed only in 1945 under Thai management. Ratchadamnern Stadium became the last big construction site conducted by an Italian company in Thailand. Like at National Stadium, the main style of the building is late Art Deco with some bas-reliefs on the main façade resembling the friezes on nearby Democracy Monument.
Today, the stadium, although in need of a necessary overhaul, still retains its classic atmosphere. The stadium is open four times a week—Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Sunday—and the fervour rises as the sun declines, and the first fight gets underway at around 6:30pm.