Despite its misleading name, Circus Maximus has nothing to do with the modern concept of a circus. In ancient Rome, Circus Maximus was more of a stadium, where chariots were pulled by horses, racing against each other, to the delight of the crowd. In its heydays, Circus Maximus had a capacity of 250,000 seats, which made it one of the largest circuses in antiquity and, at the same time, one of the most monumental architectural complexes, second only to the Coliseum.

The oval arena, located on one of the slopes of the Palatine Hill, was, first of all, impressive by its dimensions: it amounted to more than 600 meters in length, being almost 120 meters wide. But before assuming these dimensions, Circus Maximus (or, more precisely, the site filled by its vestiges at present) was a small wooden venue hosting chariot races ever since the 6th century BC. Thus, the first chariot race was held under Romulus, the first legendary King of Rome. The circus was reconstructed from stone, such as to defy the passage of time with the robustness of the new construction material. But times have changed, and the prestige of the so-called ludi (as the chariot raced were called in Latin) faded out (the last race was held in 549 AD, under Totila (emperor of Goth origin), at about one millennium distance from the first race), under the pressure of the newly emerging political, social and cultural contexts.

The site was abandoned, neglected by all officials of Rome, and virtually turned into a quarry (as it was the case with plenty other ancient sites, the Coliseum included) from where huge amounts of stone were ripped off and reused as construction material for other structures erected in Rome beginning with the Middle Ages. While it might be deemed one of the saddest sights in Rome (little has remained to remind the contemporary visitors about the monumentality and splendor of the arena), Circus Maximus is also one of the most valuable archeological sites. With a little imagination, the inquisitive tourist can almost hear the cheers and the applause which used to fill the atmosphere of Circus Maximus during the spectacular ludi. And even if the vestiges can only hint on the massiveness of the formerly glorious circus, they stand as proof of the way the old Romans understood, at least in part, the public entertainment.

Circus Maximus (Circo Massimo)
Via del Circo Massimo, 00186, Rome, Italy