Since 2011, for every Benfica home game, the Águia Vitória (victory eagle) – in fact a bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) – flies over the stadium, alighting on the crest of the club. It is one of the things that marks out this particular stadium as something special. Constructed in 2003 for the UEFA Championships of the following year, Benfica’s Estádio da Luz – Stadium of Light – where the Eagles dare to play such successful football is one of the more iconic football grounds in Europe. Such status if often reserved for stadiums with longer periods of history and whose longevity is replete with episodes of drama or legends of outstanding players, but the stadium located in the aptly named Avienda Eusébio da Silva Ferreira happily, and comprehensively, bucks that trend.
One of the reasons why this relative newcomer can elbow its way into the pantheon of the continent’s great footballing venues is that the name itself – Estádio da Luz – predates the early 21st century construction of the area. In 1954, Benfica moved into a new stadium, bearing the same name as the one constructed in 2003 but, neither were officially called Estádio da Luz! The previous stadium which, at one time, grew to have a capacity at of 120,000, and the current one, were officially titled Estádio do Sport Lisboa e Benfica. So where does Estádio da Luz come from. Well, let me throw a little ‘light’ on that one.
As well as both stadiums having the same name, they were both dedicated to Igreja de Nossa Senhora da Luz – Church of Our Lady of the Light – which is located in the parish of Largo de Luz in Carnide where the first stadium was built. From there of course, as well as being locally described as the Estádio de Carnide, it was a small step for the appellation of Estádio da Luz to take root. Arguably though, the translation of referring to both of the arenas as The Stadium of Light may well be an error as the ‘Luz’ referred to is a geographical definition of the area rather than the meaning of the word ‘light’ itself. That said though, these things can take on a life of their own and often, even the erroneous becomes the accepted, due to the sheer weight of common approval.
Such things as well are often given support by other unconnected characteristics. The original stadium was almost entirely uncovered, meaning that light from the Portuguese sun bathed the arena. It seemed to fit with the name. When the new stadium was built therefore, there was a desire to honour this. Designed by Damon Lavelle of HOK Sport Venue Events, the edifice constructed in 2003 focuses great attention of maintaining this characteristic as far as possible without compromising on other required features – not least a roof.
In order to achieve this, Lavelle proposed using a polycarbonate material that would allow the sunlight to penetrate through the roof and into the stadium and particularly the pitch, thus perpetuating the ‘light’ ambience of the old stadium. The imaginative use of bespoke tie-bars to support the roof, whilst also eliminating the need to potentially view-restricting support pillars, also adds to the airiness of the arena and offers the image of the roof actually floating in the air above the stands as if levitated by the magic appearing on the pitch beneath it.
The construction of the new stadium cost almost €120million to complete, but when Benfica played their inaugural game there against Club Nacional de Football of Uruguay on the 25th October 2003, a crowd in excess of 65,400 turned up to take possession of the new arena and bathe in its light.
As well as being the new home to the Eagles, the stadium is often used by the Portugal national team and fulfilled its destiny in 2004, hosting a number of games in the UEFA Championship, including the final, that unexpectedly Portugal lost to Greece.
That said though, in the opening season Benfica played at the new stadium, the Eagles were crowned as league champions. In Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare wrote that, “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” Perhaps in this context, it’s apt to say that a stadium of any other name would be just as light.