Athletic Club are one of a kind, and though the stadium may be just 5 years old it embodies the spirit of the club perfectly.
One could think that this new home may not have inherited the historic and magical character so deeply linked to the ‘Cathedral’ – the old San Mamés – but that would mean not knowing what makes this club, its supporters and the city as a whole so special.
Athletic Club is the only professional team that, in 120 years of history, has only been represented by players from in a specific region, in this case the Basque Country.
By rooting it in the city of Bilbao, the club's DNA is captured by the stadium. The new San Mamés is, from an architectural point of view, the icing on the cake in one of the most culturally-rich cities in Europe.
The stadium sits on the Bilbao riverfront (the ria), making it a prominent icon on the city’s modern downtown skyline. Yet tradition flows freely through the new San Mames. Built adjacent to the old stadium, the traditions which made playing in the original ‘Cathedral’ have been kept very much alive.
The impressive atmosphere created by Athletic fans for every game was taken into account by the stadium’s architects, who pushed the stands as close as possible to the playing field and built them to be as vertical as possible in order to “create an intimidating atmosphere for the visiting team.”
San Mames may be intimidating on the inside, but it is charming on the outside. It’s iconic and translucent façade is made up of 2,500 identical ‘sails,’ each with a strip of 12 LED lights.
The end result is, in effect, a giant 30,000-pixel screen able to project almost any image or animation you could imagine and capable of lighting up the city’s night skyline in a sea of colour.
The stadium has been recognised around the world with a plethora of architectural awards and was named the ‘Best Sports Building in the World at the 2015’ World Architectural Festival.
FIFA handed it ‘Elite Stadium’ status and it is the only LaLiga stadium set to host matches at Euro 2020.