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.

References:

Comments

Your name



Details

Founded: 6th century BC
Category: Ruins in Italy

Rating

4.4/5 (based on Google user reviews)

User Reviews

jeffrey Kok (2 years ago)
A beautiful view when you go to Circus Maximus. A lot of green plants and threes. A very great feeling when you walk out the city and go to this place. You will see there not so many tourists!
AngeliZation Boss (2 years ago)
I was in re for a few days and we stayed at this hotel, the breakfast opens at a reasonable time (6:45). This hotel is really nice the only down is size. The bathroom is tiny, our shower was 3 by 3 meters. Rooms are quite small and compact also. But you don't stay in the hotel all day long so I really do recommend this hotel if you are staying in Rome.
James Balestriere (2 years ago)
What it was it is long gone. If it weren't for signs i would have totally missed it. Towards one side there aas a bit rubble but overall it looked like a big playing field out in the middle of nowhere. Compared to other sires in Rome you could do a lot better than come here.
Mark Ellis (2 years ago)
A good open space and place to relax after bumper sightseeing. There are some not bad sandwich shops nearby to grab a snack. There's no obvious interpretation information about the former chariots that use to race here. You'll need a guidebook to give you the context.
Mary McPartland (2 years ago)
Visiting in winter time on a gorgeous 58° sunny day in January. Roma is perfect this time of year - no crowds!! Walking here at the Circus with locals raking their dogs for a run and eating a snack. Visit the far end near Caracalla to understand the set up and brutality of the ling ago events. Picturesque site!
Powered by Google

Featured Historic Landmarks, Sites & Buildings

Historic Site of the week

Mosque–Cathedral of Córdoba

The Mosque–Cathedral of Córdoba, also known as the Great Mosque of Córdoba and the Mezquita is regarded as one of the most accomplished monuments of Moorish architecture.

According to a traditional account, a small Visigoth church, the Catholic Basilica of Saint Vincent of Lérins, originally stood on the site. In 784 Abd al-Rahman I ordered construction of the Great Mosque, which was considerably expanded by later Muslim rulers. The mosque underwent numerous subsequent changes: Abd al-Rahman II ordered a new minaret, while in 961 Al-Hakam II enlarged the building and enriched the Mihrab. The last of such reforms was carried out by Almanzor in 987. It was connected to the Caliph"s palace by a raised walkway, mosques within the palaces being the tradition for previous Islamic rulers – as well as Christian Kings who built their palaces adjacent to churches. The Mezquita reached its current dimensions in 987 with the completion of the outer naves and courtyard.

In 1236, Córdoba was conquered by King Ferdinand III of Castile, and the centre of the mosque was converted into a Catholic cathedral. Alfonso X oversaw the construction of the Villaviciosa Chapel and the Royal Chapel within the mosque. The kings who followed added further Christian features, such as King Henry II rebuilding the chapel in the 14th century. The minaret of the mosque was also converted to the bell tower of the cathedral. It was adorned with Santiago de Compostela"s captured cathedral bells. Following a windstorm in 1589, the former minaret was further reinforced by encasing it within a new structure.

The most significant alteration was the building of a Renaissance cathedral nave in the middle of the expansive structure. The insertion was constructed by permission of Charles V, king of Castile and Aragon. Artisans and architects continued to add to the existing structure until the late 18th century.

Architecture

The building"s floor plan is seen to be parallel to some of the earliest mosques built from the very beginning of Islam. It had a rectangular prayer hall with aisles arranged perpendicular to the qibla, the direction towards which Muslims pray. The prayer hall was large and flat, with timber ceilings held up by arches of horseshoe-like appearance.

In planning the mosque, the architects incorporated a number of Roman columns with choice capitals. Some of the columns were already in the Gothic structure; others were sent from various regions of Iberia as presents from the governors of provinces. Ivory, jasper, porphyry, gold, silver, copper, and brass were used in the decorations. Marvellous mosaics and azulejos were designed. Later, the immense temple embodied all the styles of Morisco architecture into one composition.

The building is most notable for its arcaded hypostyle hall, with 856 columns of jasper, onyx, marble, granite and porphyry. These were made from pieces of the Roman temple that had occupied the site previously, as well as other Roman buildings, such as the Mérida amphitheatre. The double arches were an innovation, permitting higher ceilings than would otherwise be possible with relatively low columns. The double arches consist of a lower horseshoe arch and an upper semi-circular arch.