It is a pity that it is not possible anymore to view Rome‘s Circus Maximus in all its splendor, since it is probably the biggest venue of all time with a width of 140 meters and a length of around 600 meters. The Circus Maximus is best known from the chariot races in the famous film “Ben Hur”.
Circus Maximus Rome
Address, Opening Hours and Entrance fee
The Circo Massimo is located along the Via del Circo Massimo – 00186 Roma (Italy). Metro: Circo Massimo (line B). Rione: Ripa. Bus: 81, 628 (stop: Circo Massimo-Roseto Comunale), 75, 81, 118, 160, 673, N2, N10 (stop: Circo Massimo), 628, L07 (stop: Cerchi-Porta Capena), 81, 118, 160, 628, 715 (stop: Cerchi-Bocca della Verità). Admission and opening hours: Most of the Circus Maximus is freely accessible.
Of what was once the Circus Maximus (which means “biggest circus” in Latin, and in Italian is called Circo Massimo) is unfortunately very little left.
The Circus Maximus is located in a 600m. long and 150m. wide valley (the Vallis Murcia) between the Palatine and the Aventine hills. It had 250,000 to 300,000 seats, which was then about a quarter of the entire population of Rome. It was of course also possible to see the games in the Circus Maximus from the hills themselves.
Circus Maximus is very important for the history of Rome. During a festival at the circus, the rape (which at the time meant abduction) of the Sabine women happened, which put an end to the scarcity of females in the population of Rome.
The valley where the Circus is located, which used to be called the Valle Murcia, had already been developed in the times of the Tarquinians. The originally marshy area had been drained, not extremely effectively at the time because of obvious lack of knowledge and material, but in the following centuries more and more work was done and monumental works were constructed.
In 196 B.C. the Arch of Stertinio was erected and in subsequent centuries especially the emperors Julius Caesar and Augustus added and restored several aspects of the Circus Maximus, which also used to be adorned with the obelisk that can now be admired on the Piazza del Popolo.
Over the years the Circus was destroyed a number of times by fires to be completely restored in the times of the emperors Domitian and Traianus. The – few – ruins that are still visible nowadays are those of monuments constructed in that period.
Future emperors would add even more to the Circus, as testified by the brickwork and by several decorative additions like a second, gigantic, obelisk, tranported from Egypt to Rome by Constantius II. This obelisk was later moved to the Piazza di San Giovanni in Laterano.
On one side of the Circus part of the twelve carceres can still be seen. It is here that the races started. The higher part in the middle of the track was the spina, on top of which statues of eggs and dolphins were placed. Every time a lap was completed one of the statues was taken away. The spina must have been quite impressive, since apart from the aforementioned eggs and dolphins there were columns, groups of statues, altars, temples and of course the two obelisks to be admired.
The Circus Maximus hosted its last games in 549 and then gradually was abandoned and later turned into agricultural terrain.
Since 2017 it is possible to visit the small part of the Circus Maximus that has been excavated.
Visitors will have access to the galleries that used to lead to the steps of the cavea. Remains of ancient latrines can be seen in these 100m long galleries. Senators watched from the ground floor of the cavea, the plebs on the upper floor.
Along the external basalt road you can see a large drinking trough and you can visit the various tabernae around the Circus. These included inns, grocery stores, laundries and warehouses, but also brothels and moneychangers. These latter were needed for the betting on the horseraces.
The bases of the Arch of Titus are visible in the central part of the hemicycle. The front colums were at least 10 meters high. Parts of the large inscription with bronze letters of a dedication by the Senate and the Roman People to the emperor were also found here.
The numerous stone fragments have also been partly arranged to furnish the open space. Elements from the ancient building (steps, frames, capitals, shop thresholds, etc.) can be seen on one side of the hemicycle, while on the other side a series of columns in coloured marble are visible.
The visit includes the inside of the 12th century Torre della Moletta.