World Cup stadium is Paris's biggest attraction

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The Independent Online
JUST FIVE weeks after the World Cup final was played in Paris, the Stade de France has already earned the status of a monument. The stadium has been receiving about 1,500 visitors a day since the French victory on 12 July.

A total of 18,000 paying visitors came in the first two weeks of August alone, a number that outweighs those visiting either of France's more famous monuments, the Eiffel Tower and the Chateau de Versailles.

"The French victory has turned the Stade de France into a mythical place," said Xavier Parenteau, the director of tourism at the arena in the Paris suburbs.

Bowing to popular demand, the stadium now provides tours for visitors. Thirty-five francs (pounds 3.50) is all it costs to gain entrance to the roof, from where visitors can gaze down on the ground where Brazil's four-year football reign came to an unexpected end. Those who want to follow in the footsteps of midfielder Zinedine Zidane, can do just that by paying Fr90, which provides football enthusiasts with access to the changing rooms and the pitch.

A quarter of visitors to the Stade de France are foreign tourists.

"My son's crazy about football," a British mother said. "It's really important for him to be able to say that he was here."

Mr Parenteau said: "The British already have a tradition of visiting football stadiums." This phenomenon is now taking the French by storm, who are flocking to pay homage to the ground where Les Bleus put France back on the sporting map.

The authorities at the Stade de France in Saint-Denis insist that many visitors come to admire the stadium's architecture. After all, 150,000 came to gaze at the creation during its construction. But the success of World Cup merchandise underlines where the real passion - and the money - lies.

"Close your eyes, you can still feel the atmosphere," said a young fan before parting with Fr75 for a Stade de France T-shirt.

Should the guided tour of the architecture and pitch not suffice, you can mail order for a piece of the semi-final turf for Fr175. But with just a thousand pieces left, they are going to be harder to acquire than tickets for the World Cup final.

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