Circus Maximus

Rome, Italy

The Circus Maximus was a chariot racetrack in Rome first constructed in the 6th century BCE. The Circus was also used for other public events such as the Roman Games and gladiator fights and was last used for chariot races in the 6th century CE. It was partially excavated in the 20th century and then remodelled but it continues today as one of the modern city's most important public spaces, hosting huge crowds at music concerts and rallies.

The Circus Maximus, located in the valley between the Palatine and Aventine hills, is the oldest and largest public space in Rome. Its principal function was as a chariot racetrack and host of the Roman Games (Ludi Romani) which honoured Jupiter. These were the oldest games in the city and were held every September with 15 days of chariot races and military processions. In addition, Rome had many other games and up to 20 of these had one day or more at the Circus Maximus. Other events hosted at the site included wild animal hunts, public executions and gladiator fights, some of which were exotically spectacular in the extreme, such as when Pompey organised a contest between a group of barbarian gladiators and 20 elephants.

At its largest during the 1st century CE following its rebuilding after the fire of 64 CE, the Circus had a capacity for 250,000 spectators seated on banks 30 m wide and 28 m high. Seats were in concrete and stone in the lower two tiers and wood for the rest. The seats at the closed curved end date from the early 1st century CE. The outside of the circus presented an impressive front of arcades in which shops would have served the needs of the spectators. The Roman architectural historian Vitruvius also describes a temple of Ceres in the Circus and that it was decorated with terracotta statues or gilt bronze.

The track, originally covered in sand, measured 540 x 80 m and had 12 starting gates for chariots arranged in an arc at the open end of the track. A decorated barrier ran down the centre of the track so that chariots ran in a circuit around conical turning posts placed at each end. The spina also had two obelisks added over the centuries, one in the centre and one at the end. Here also were the lap markers - eggs and dolphins - which were turned to mark the completion of each of the seven circuits of a typical race.

The last official chariot race at the Circus Maximus was in 549 CE and was held by Totila, the Ostrogoth king. The site was then largely abandoned, although, the Frangipanni did fortify the site in 1144. The first excavations were carried out under Pope Sixtus V in 1587 and the two obelisks which had originally stood as part of the spina were recovered.

The site was used for industry and even a gasworks in the 19th centur but in the 1930s the area was cleared and converted into a park made to resemble the original form of the Circus. Original seats were revealed, as were the starting gates and the spina. However, the latter two were re-covered and now lie some 9 m under the present ground level. The curved seat end continues to be excavated today whilst the main part of the circus is still used for large public events such as concerts and rallies.

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Founded: 6th century BC
Category: Miscellaneous historic sites in Italy

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4.4/5 (based on Google user reviews)

User Reviews

Elmar Gurbanov (3 years ago)
Rome is so wonderful place and many places to see. If you have little time, do not waste it on this place. But if you want to see all, that Rome has to offer, then you can visit this place. But it is just plane field with nothing interesting to offer, but its history.
LAT (3 years ago)
Great place to see beautiful skyline of Rome including Palatino. There are some grass area good for a picnic. However, there is no actual buildings left to see. Just a big empty ground. Of course it is still a great place to visit.
Tony Gartshore (4 years ago)
Historical place to visit is a must when you visit rome . Right at side of the roman foram. 5*.
Vamsi Varma (4 years ago)
Pleasant area to enjoy a memorable evening with your loved ones. The area is wide open and has some really awesome views. What makes it even more special is that it is easily accessible by metro, tram and bus. It can be also a perfect meeting point to head to other awesome places like Orange gardens, San Paolo and other amazing places around the tibur river. Very much recommend for a pleasant evening or a walk around the open area.
Gursewak singh nathupur (4 years ago)
The Circus Maximus (Latin for greatest or largest circus; Italian: Circo Massimo) is an ancient Roman chariot-racing stadium and mass entertainment venue located in Rome, Italy. Situated in the valley between the Aventine and Palatine hills, it was the first and largest stadium in ancient Rome and its later Empire. It measured 621 m (2,037 ft) in length and 118 m (387 ft) in width and could accommodate over 150,000 spectators. In its fully developed form, it became the model for circuses throughout the Roman Empire. The site is now a public park.
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