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

Website (optional)



Details

Founded: 6th century BC
Category: Ruins in Italy

User Reviews

Powered by Google

Featured Historic Landmarks, Sites & Buildings

Historic Site of the week

Eketorp Fort

Eketorp is an Iron Age fort in southeastern Öland, which was extensively reconstructed and enlarged in the Middle Ages. Throughout the ages the fortification has served a variety of somewhat differing uses: from defensive ringfort, to medieval safe haven and thence a cavalry garrison. In the 20th century it was further reconstructed to become a heavily visited tourist site and a location for re-enactment of medieval battles. Eketorp is the only one of the 19 known prehistoric fortifications on Öland that has been completely excavated, yielding a total of over 24,000 individual artifacts. The entirety of southern Öland has been designated as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. The Eketorp fortification is often referred to as Eketorp Castle.

The indigenous peoples of the Iron Age constructed the original fortification about 400 AD, a period known to have engendered contact between Öland natives with Romans and other Europeans. The ringfort in that era is thought to have been a gathering place for religious ceremonies and also a place of refuge for the local agricultural community when an outside enemy appeared. The circular design was believed to be chosen because the terrain is so level that attack from any side was equally likely. The original diameter of this circular stone fortification was about 57 metres. In the next century the stone was moved outward to construct a new circular structure of about 80 metres in diameter. At this juncture there were known to be about fifty individual cells or small structures within the fort as a whole. Some of these cells were in the center of the fortified ring, and some were actually built into the wall itself.

In the late 600s AD the ringfort was mysteriously abandoned, and it remained unused until the early 11th century. This 11th century work generally built upon the earlier fort, except that stone interior cells were replaced with timber structures, and a second outer defensive wall was erected.

Presently the fort is used as a tourist site for visitors to Öland to experience a medieval fortification for this region. A museum within the castle walls displays a few of the large number of artefacts retrieved by the National Heritage Board during the major decade long excavation ending in 1974. Inside the fort visitors are greeted by actors in medieval costumes who assume the roles of period artisans and merchants who might have lived there nine centuries earlier. There are also re-enactment scenes of skirmishes and other dramatic events of daily life from the Middle Ages.

Eketorp lies a few kilometers west of Route 136. There is an ample unpaved parking area situated approximately two kilometers west of the paved Öland perimeter highway. There is also a gift shop on site. During peak summer visitation, there are guided tours available. Visitors are assessed an admission charge.