A Tourist in Rome - Circus Maximus

Location:Runs between the Circo Massimo metro stop and the back of the church of Santa Maria in Cosmedin
Metro:Circo Massimo, or see it on my To the Forum Boarium and Beyond Walking Tour
Time:about 10 minutes for either end, about 20 more minutes to walk the length
Cost:Free
Hours:Viewable at any time during daylight, I don't know whether or not its open and/or lit at night

The Circus Maximus was the first and largest chariot racing stadium in ancient Rome, located between the Aventine Hill and Palatine Hill. Think of the chariot race in the movie Ben-Hur and you'll have a good idea of what the Circus Maximus was like (except the chariot racing stadium in the movie was located in Jerusalem). It measured 2037 feet long by 387 feet wide, and could hold 150,000 spectators. The grandstands were originally made of wood. The circus was also Rome's largest venue for ludi, public games connected to religious festivals, starting with one honoring Jupiter which was sponsored by Tarquin the Proud (king from 535 BC to 510 BC). Ludi could run from a half-day to several days. By the late republic, ludi were held on 57 days each year. Eventually they were held on 157 days per year. Recall the expression that states that to keep the people happy you must supply them with "Bread and Circuses". Well, the Circuses part of that was exactly what went on in the Circus Maximus to keep the masses entertained. The Circus Maximus is depicted musically by one of the movements in Respighi's Roman Trilogy. Julius Caesar extended the seating to run almost the entire circuit of the track. His successor, Augustus, erected an Egyptian obelisk in the spina (central divider) of the track which is now called the Flaminian Obelisk and is now located in Piazza del Popolo. In the first century AD, the Colosseum was built to allow an increased number of games and to showcase the wealth and power of the empire. In the late first century, Domitian built a multi-story palace on the southern edge of the Palatine Hill where he could watch the games from the comfort his living room (3rd photo below). The palace is still visible as an imposing ruin on the north edge of the Circus Maximus. In the early second century, Trajan rebuilt the Circus in stone, perhaps because of the many fires which had swept through it over the centuries. The Circus lasted in this form until the final known races were held in 549 AD, and the remains visible today are from this rebuild. Don't expect much, though, since not much of the Circus remains except for a grass-covered race track, a slightly-raised central barrier, and grassy hills along the edges where the grandstands once stood. The original track level is 20 feet under the current ground level. The Circus Maximus is now a public park sometimes used for concerts. The Frangipane Tower is at the eastern end of the Circus Maximus (4th photo below), where there are also excavations which have discovered the remains of a second Arch of Titus, announced in this article.

    
Circus Maximus from near the eastern end near the Circo Massimo metro station
See all Circus Maximus photos.
    
Circus Maximus from the western end behind the church of Santa Maria in Cosmedin
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The Severan Arcades, built over the palace constructed by Domitian overlooking the Circus Maximus
See all Circus Maximus photos.
    
Eastern end of the Circus Maximus, including the Frangipane Tower
See all Circus Maximus photos.
See also:
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