Circo Massimo

Circus Maximus

Circo Massimo was the largest racing stadium in the Ancient Rome: up to twelve chariots could compete there at once. Circo Maximus played a crucial role in the cultural life of the city. The legend goes it was at Circo Massimo that Sabine daughters were abducted. The Roman king Tarquinius Priscus is considered to hold the first chariot race here, approximately in 500 BC. Since ancient times the valley of 600 by 150 m was a place for horse races, though, there were no structures but the arena and temporary seats for honorable guests. Apparently, lands of the valley were still being cultivated then, and the Games could have taken places only after the harvest was completed. In Caesar’s times Circo Massimo was extended to let up to 500 thousand spectators in, including the ones watching the contest on their feet. There were two obelisks that have survived to our days. The first one was brought from Egypt and erected by Augustus. Today it’s place is in Piazza del Popolo. The second one was erected by Constantine the Great, and in 1588 it was moved to the square in front of the Lateran Palace.

Every new emperor provided his input into building and rebuilding of the circus, and Circo Massimo was becoming more and more impressive. Circo Massimo owes its architectural design to Augustus. It was then that seats on the nearest stairs were provided to senators and horsemen, and that spectators had to show special bronze tickets to get in. During Traianus’s times places for spectators were expanded. Domitianus also took part in reconstruction of the circus. However, construction works sometimes had sad consequences. Not once the stands failed to withstand the weight of spectators and crashed, causing deaths of many people, up to several thousands.

This place started to decay along with the Roman Empire. At first, traditional horse races were stopped. Then Circo Massimo became a place for the warring gens to fight. As late as in the VI century the Ostrogoth king Teodoric still supported the circus, and the last games were held in 549 by another Ostrogoth king, Totila. In Medieval ages stone structures of the circus were taken to pieces by locals, who used the stones to erect new buildings. However, the territory of the circus has never been built-up, and public events are still held here, be it concerts or screening of sport events on video walls. Locals like to walk here with their pets, and whatever the weather, lovers of jogging are out here.

Address: Via del Circo Massimo
How to reach: metro Circo Massimo
Coordinates: 41.886145, 12.485102