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Sistine Chapel of Pelota

Updated: Mar 16, 2021

Campaigners call for historic sports venue in Madrid to become a world heritage site after its €38m restoration.

Basque pelota, which is popular in parts of Spain and France, spread across Spain’s former empire and is still played in countries including Cuba, Argentina, the Philippines and the US, but federations also exist in Sweden, India and the Netherlands. The game lays claim to being the fastest ball game on Earth and was once an Olympic sport.

Since its inauguration 127 years ago, the magnificent pelota stadium in Madrid - known as the Frontón Beti-Jai - was built at the height of the Spanish capital’s love affair with the Basque game of pelota, has echoed with the crack of leather-stitched balls and the cheers of crowds 4,000 strong. However, in recent years the venue fell into almost terminal decay. By the time Igor González Martín, a Basque IT specialist living in Madrid, stumbled across the site in 2008, it was all but lost.

“There were weeds everywhere, birds cheeping – and rats, because of all the rubbish,” he says. “You could see there was a beautiful building there, but it was in total decay.” So, he started a campaign to save the stadium and restore it.

Today, after a €38m ($46m) restoration the Frontón Beti-Jai is the finest surviving example of a late-19th century pelota court in the world, and also lays claim to being the oldest original and unaltered modern-era sporting venue in Europe. So, it's fabulous news that this temple to the sport has been saved.

It's now hoped that the frontón will be declared a world heritage site by Unesco.



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