It’s a sunny afternoon and the local sports arena is full of thousands of sweaty, drunk and rabid fans screaming for/cursing at their favorite teams, waging bets, fighting in the stands, tearing their shirts off and throwing garbage. Football? Soccer match? Nope, it’s the chariot races at Circus Maximus in 50 BC. Some things never change...
This was the Mother Of All Circuses; the oldest and the largest built in Rome. The long valley between the Palatine and Aventine hills caught the eye of a 7th-century BC King whom it’s thought built the first track here, and it was repeatedly expanded, burnt down, and expanded again century after century until its elegant stone-and-marble stands could handle over 250,000 sport-crazed spectators on a good day. And fanatical they were, having around 24 races a day, 60 days or so a year plus gladiatorial battles, executions and other gory stuff. This half of the “Bread and Circuses” equation kept dangerously idle Romans distracted from the declining state of the state until the 4th century when it all went to heck in the proverbial handbasket.
The stones of the circus - like so many other of the noble piles - were torn apart over the next 1500 years to build other structures, and most of the rest sank into soggy soil and general decay. By 1934 the site was “covered with ramshackle squalid cottages, sheds, hayricks, small workshops, rag-pickers’ sorting dumps and factories of artificial manure. The entire area of the "Circus Maximus” was, so to speak coverted [sic] into the city’s rubbish dump, shunned by citizens and overlooked by the city authorities.” Mussolini had the grounds all cleaned up for parades and whatnot but it was too late to save much more than the rough outlines of the spina (the central track divider) and the ruin of some of the gates at one end.
But two important pieces were rescued from the mire: the obelisks which once decorated the spina. Both were brought from Egypt: one by Constantius II in 356-57 AD that is the tallest of the known ancient spires in the world and now stands in Piazza San Giovanni in Laterano, and the other by Augustus in10 BC which now graces the center of Piazza del Popolo.
The site is free and a good walk-by on your way to-or-from the Aventine and Palatine. Copy/paste this link to see a model of what it once looked like:
Other good background info:
This is a grand area not far from termini and we walk around it, very old ruins of an important part of Rome. We took leisure walks and saw the ruins, it is one of the sites to see when in Rome at least once. Just to see the magnitude of its sizes under emperors rules.
a bit of history
The Circus Maximus, Grand Circus or sometimes circus Maxim is a huge public building of Rome, located in the Valley of the Murcia between the Palatine and the Aventine, where chariot races were organized. It is the largest and oldest Racecourse in Rome. Nowadays, it is located in the rione of Ripa and remains useful for large gatherings (concerts, etc.).Circus Maximus in latin means: "big circus". According to Pliny, it could accommodate about 250,000 spectators , and even more in its maximus dimensions , in the 4th century, where the catalogues of the Romans cite the figure of 385,000 spectators , making it by far the largest sports events building ever constructed. It has been repeatedly rebuilt and expanded after having been devastated by fires, including the year 64 under the Emperor Nero.
We went to the Circe Maximus after visiting the non-catholic cemetery. We got there by taking a train to Circe Maximus Station on the b-line of the metro. The Circe Maximus was once the site of chariot races. Now it is just a big field. The Circe Maximus is one of the best places to view the ruins on the Palatine Hill if you do not want to go in or as in our case cannot get in.
Circo Massimo was an ancient roman chariot racing stadium. Although in our days it’s no more than a public park so you have to imagine that it was a place of mass entertainment for the ancient Rome.
It was first built during 4th century BC but expanded later during Ceasar era and it was 621m in length and 118m in width, it was the largest stadium in Rome and could hold about 250,000 people, an amazing number for sure.
For me it was also a racing stadium as we visited it one cold winter day and I was desperate to visit the restrooms and there was nothing around, not a small café, nothing… I was ready to scream “Aven Ceasar, morituri te salutant“ so I had to hurry up to the other end where we finally found a place near the metro station.
The Circo Massimo runs along the base of the Palatine Hill. Not much of this 6th century BC Roman stadium remains, but the track still remains and was used mainly for chariot races. In its heydays, the arena held around 300000 spectators.
All that's left of ancient Rome's largest stadium is a large grassy basin. As you walk along its sides today try to imagine the chariot races that took place here in front of 300,000 spectators. The earliest of these being from at least the 4th century BC.
As a fan of the movie Ben Hur, I couldn't go to Rome without visiting the Circus Maximus. I'll admit that it is very underwhelming compared to its Ben Hur re-creation, but it was nice to see nonetheless. All that is really left now is the circular area that was once the track with a raised mound of dirt in the middle that used to separate the 2 sides of the chariot ring. I can only imagine what it looked like in Roman times, chariots racing and a couple hundred thousand people cheering in the stands.
What I found very enjoyable was the citizens jogging and walking their dogs around the ring. What a great place to go for an evening jog, comparable I think to jogging on the National Mall in Washington, DC.
Not too much is left of what was once the racetrack that could accommodate more than 200,000 people inside. Only the outlines remain and if you stop by you will most likely meet people walking their friendly dogs there and playing with them.
Tip: Bocca dela Verita is close by, so if you are in the area make sure you do not skip it.
I thought there would have been little more left of this Circo Massimo horse-race place,than one tower and circle,shaped like race-tour.It was told more in books than Terme di Caracalla,witch was huge and great.We just walked by this when going to Terme di Caracalla.Her´s not so much to see.Ruins behind are backside of Forum Romanums ruins.
This oval basin, nearly 600 meters long, is almost entirely filled in with dirt. It was once a race track. It was made in the time of the Etruscan kings (presumably Tarquinio Prisco). Augustus adorned the brick structure with an imperial stage, which was rebuilt by Trajan, enlarged by Caracalla and restored by Constantine. During the reign of Constantine, the Circus could hold more than 200,000 spectators. Today only the outline remains (the area it occupied is now a public garden).
After we visited the Colosseum, Sandro drove us past this site and pointed it out to us. It used to be a the chariot racetrack of Rome. The name is Latin for greatest circus, in Italian Circo Massimo. It is now a runner’s track, sports park, and green space. The third picture was from a website with public domain pictures and shows the reconstructed site. Julius Caesar expanded the Circus in 50 B.C. so that the track measured approximately 2,037 ft long and 387 ft wide. It could hold 12 chariots. Chariot racing was very dangerous and there were spectacular crashes which could result in the death of the participants.
The excavation was done in the late 19th century. There is no entrance fee, but it lies behind the fenced off Palatine hill, with a view of the ancient imperial palace (photo 2). We didn't stay here long, but the internet site on parks says
All hippodromes (horserace parks) in ancient times were built with banked sides as bleacher seats for spectators, either landscaping the earth or as built structures. Circus Maximus was the largest of its kind, able to hold 250,000 spectators. The chariot races held at the park were popular sports attractions with Romans. They often bet on the charioteers, who were the sports celebrities of their time....
The south embankment sits higher than the north. Near its center is a wide platform with a dozen benches facing the track. This is where the emperor and his entourage would have sat during the races. Today it’s a good spot to survey the Palatine (one of the seven Roman hills) and its excavated architecture. For a closer look at an excavation-in- progress, the east end of the “Massimo” holds ancient structures that historians believe where the horse stables and dress areas of the chariot riders.
A softball diamond is roughly outlined at each of the corners on the track. Teens gather here after school and on weekends for pickup games. You’ll find morning and evening joggers working their way around the track...
The Circus Maximus has quite a different look now then it did back in its glory days when the elite of Rome would gather and cheer on their favorite team color. Today its a quiet place to relax in the sun or to get some exercise jogging around the track where horses galloped furiously with chariots in tow. Located right behind Palatine Hill, this is a nice place to take a break after visiting the Coliseum and the Roman Forum. Its rarely crowded and you will mostly see locals jogging or having picnics. Get away from the tourist madness for a little while and take in the peaceful atmosphere of the Circus Maximus.
Well, I was looking forward to stopping and walking around this area but I learned never to rely on the travel itinerary. However, I did get to drive by it...Not good photo opportunities though. Lots of trees in the way.
If you go, I would plan to at least walk around it (I believe it's a park now) and get the feel of the life that once lived there. If you do, feel free to let me know how it went :/ I'll get a second chance soon, though.
I mean JULIUS CAESAR ruled while this thing was operated 50 years BEFORE CHRIST...it just baffles me! It was NOT a real circus as we know it as though. It's more like an arena for the olympic-type games. The track is still outlined though and some of the gates are supposedly obvious? Not sure as I didn't really see it.
You can find more historical information at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Circus_Maximus
*Side note: When I was actually there I took a picture of the ruins behind the actual arena thinking THAT was circus maximus :D I was young and had not done my studying up!!
Ancient Rome's largest stadium, the Circus Maximus, is now little more than a green field. In its zenith, it held 300,000 spectators. It was built in the 4th century BC and continually expanded until the 6th century AD. Over time, the structure surrounding the race track was gradually removed and used as building material elsewhere, until none of it was left.
The Circus Maximus (Circo Massimo) lies between the Palatine and Aventine Hills in a valley once known as the Vallis Murcia.
Only a few ruins remain of what once was a chariot racetrack (I certainly didnt see Charlton Heston racing his chariot around - lol) which stood about 600m long and 90m wide. It was decorated with statues and columns, had wooden stands and could accommodate 200,000 spectators.
The great excitement for the crowds was when the chariots had to negotiate the sharp turns at each end.
In 46 BC Julius Caesar had battles recreated here using prisoners.
Augustus erected an obelisk of Tamses ll in 10 BC, which now stands in the Piazza del Popolo.
A fire in 64 AD that destroyed much of the city of Rome is thought to have started in the circus's wooden stands.
The circus was rebuilt by Trajan in 100 AD and could hold 250,000 spectators.
Another obelisk was erected by Constantine, that now standards in Piazza San Giovanni in Laterno.
The circus remained in use until 549 AD.
Excavations are currently being carried out at the eastern end.