Circus Maximus (Circo Massimo)

"Circus Maximus (Circo Massimo)" submitted by RomeTour Editorial Team and last updated on Sunday 3rd July 2011

It is thought that the Circus, located in the Valle Murcia, between the Palatine and the Aventine Hills, existed already before the 4th century b.C. and was used for the horse races and horse competitions first by Tarquinius Priscus in 600 b.C.; and that the famous rape of the Sabines took place right here. It was the greatest construction for the entertainment every built, with dimensions 600m x 200m, with 350,000 seats (from where the name Maximus derives). The circus was altered and enlarged on several occasions. Adapted for chariot races, it was used also for athletic contests, wild-beast fights, and (by flooding the arena) mock sea battles.

Circus Maximus (Circo Massimo) - a modern racetrack
Only Julius Caesar had a real brickwork constructed and its map is kept, at least partially, in the following constructions as witness the many reticulate works in various points during the excavation. Julius Caesar celebrated the holidays and feasts on the territory of Circus.

Augustus built an imperial box on the slope of the palatine and in 10 b.C. erected an Obelisk of Ramses II (now in Piazza del Popolo). After the Nero's fire in 64 A.D. Trajan reconstructed it in the beginning of the 2nd century. Settimius Severus created a new box for the imperial family in his Palace at the foot of the Palatine. In 357 Costantius erected another Obelisk of Thutmos III (now in Piazza di S.Giovanni in Laterano). The last races in the Circus Maximus took place in 549 under the king of Ostrogoths Totila.

In 1854-1910 the area of Circus was occupied by English-Roman industrial society of Gas. In fascist period here were organized the grandiose parades. The Circus Maximus (Latin for great or large circus, in Italian Circo Massimo) is an ancient Roman chariot racing stadium and mass entertainment venue located in Rome. It was the first and largest stadium in ancient Rome and its later Empire. The arena was the place where chariot races took place and can be regarded as a modern race track, or perhaps even better, a modern racetrack.
Obelisk of Circus Maximus (Circo Massimo) at Via del Circo Massimo arial view of Circus Maximus (Circo Massimo)
A great number of interventions were made by the following emperors, both structural, as it is proved by the section of brick walls, and finalised to the decoration, often of great importance: exemplar is the erection of the gigantic obelisk brought to Rome by Costante II, now at the Lateran.Like other buildings for shows, the tier of seats divided in three floors rested on parallel and radial structures that defined, on the inside, rooms with different functions. Going from the outside towards the arena, there is the external ambulatory, the barrel vaults, the intermediate ambulatory, another row of rooms adherents to the ima cavea. The barrel vaults have a ternary rhythm: one gave access to the ima cavea, one was dead ended and the third lodged the double flight of stairs that brought to the superior ambulatory which was obtained by internal curves inside the space of the barrel vaults. The two long straight wings of the tier of seats merged in the hemicycle at which centre there were the three barrel vaults in honour of Titus.

The Circus was Rome's largest venue for Ludi, public games connected to Roman religious festivals and sponsored by leading Romans or the Roman state for the benefit of the Roman people (populus Romanus) and gods. These were usually calendar fixtures, held annually or at regular annual intervals; the earliest known at the Circus are the Ludi Romani (Roman Games) of 366 BC, in honour of Jupiter. Thereafter, the site was increasingly used for festivals. For example, Ceres' major festival, the Cerealia (mid to late April) opened with a horse race at the Circus, followed by the nightime release of foxes into the stadium, their tails ablaze with lighted torches; this ancient rite continued into Rome's Imperial era. Games given to fulfill a vow, such as the games in celebration of a Triumph, were also known as ludi; the earliest known at the Circus were vowed by Tarquin the Proud to Jupiter in the late Regal era for his victory over Pometia.

At the opposite side, disposed on a large curve there were twelve carceres surmounted by the loggia from which the magistrate used to throw the map. The heart of the building was the spine limited at the extremities by the meta triplepointed; it held the ova (marbles) and the dolphins needed to signal which one of the seven turns, foreseen by the race, they were at. It was decorated by columns, statuary groups, altars, small temples and also two obelisks. The spine was, in fact, the best place to welcome the old and new cults of the circus valley, excluding the altar of Conso which was underground by the first mete, the Murcia votive chapel which was in the area of the track close to the cavea and to the temple of the Sun that was inserted in the tier of seats.The circus kept its activity, maybe just partially, until 549 when Totila gave the last games.

Afterwards, the area became agricultural while in the hemicycle the deaconry of S. Lucy in Settizodio settled, with a big functioning complex for the assistance needs of the pilgrims, of it there are or could be reconstructed some minor constructions and the small tower. Subsequently, this complex, having become property of St. Gregory, was given in emphyteusis to Frangipane (1145); during the same period (1122) the aqua Mariana was brought to Rome, it ran across the Circus before flowing into the Tiber.

The liberalization of the area was realized in the '30, which together with present activities and with great excavation works brought to light a good part of the Hemicycle and the remains of the Arch of Titus. As in the other buildings for the performances, the steps divided into three meniani(gallery) were supported on parallel and radial structures that defined on their insides spaces with differentiated functions.
various points during the excavation at Circus Maximus (Circo Massimo)
A particular use was reserved to the slope of the Aventino, in fact from ‘500 on, it was used as a Cemetery for Jewish people. A new industrial phase was registered at the beginning of ‘800: a gasometer was installed towards S. Maria in Cosmedin and little by little, stores, factories, craftsmen businesses and houses got settled.The release of the area, hoped for by decennials, started with the works for the creation of the Monumental Area during the ‘30s at the same time as great excavation works started which, together with the present ones, have lighted up a good part of the hemicycle and the ruins of Titus’s arch.

Today very few traces are left, neglect and looting have made that little remained of this majestic arena, but the area is now cured and is still strongly recommend a visit if you are visiting Rome, it’s important to understand and get a concrete idea of what this monument was many centuries ago.

Circus Maximus (Circo Massimo)
Via del Circo Massimo
00153, Rome, Lazio, Italy
Zone: Rione San Saba (Piramide) (Roma centro)
Circus Maximus (Circo Massimo) is Shown By "Map K Zone" As "50"
Bus: 3, 60, 81, 160, 204, 628, 715, 175.
Metro: Line B (Circo Massimo)

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