Circus Maximus: A Must-Visit Archaeological Site in Rome

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Rome, one of the most historically imbued cities there is. Wherever you walk, you feel the magnificence and grandeur that, over millennia, have made this the Eternal City. There are multiple evocative and symbolic places that represent it, places where you can completely immerse yourself and imagine what happened centuries ago. And this is what happens in one of the most important and ancient archaeological sites of the Capital: the Circus Maximus, located between the Palatine and Aventine Hills, in the Murcia Valley.

It’s a place that has captured the imagination of generations, with its silent ruins telling stories of political intrigue, spectacular competitions, and lavish celebrations. Every stone tells a piece of Roman history, and every visitor, whether a curious tourist or a Roman citizen, inevitably finds themselves captivated by the atmosphere filled with history that permeates this place.


Origins and Importance of the Circus Maximus

The Circus Maximus has a rich and complex story that spans over a millennium of Roman history and has led it to play a crucial role in the social, political, and religious life of the city.

Its creation is traditionally attributed to Tarquinius Priscus, in the 6th century BC, who expanded an area previously intended for religious ceremonies and public games. During the republican period, the Circus Maximus became the center of a series of events, including the famous chariot races, not only an opportunity for spectacle and entertainment but also for the expression of political power and the wealth of Rome’s most influential families.

Under the Empire, the Circus Maximus underwent significant architectural interventions and renovations by various emperors. Devastated several times by fire, it was almost entirely rebuilt under the principality of Trajan, to whom most of the currently visible structures belong. Numerous interventions by subsequent emperors followed, including the spectacular erection of the gigantic obelisk, now at the Lateran, brought to Rome by Constantius II in 357 AD.

During the late antique period, the Circus Maximus continued to be a place of spectacle and entertainment, but gradually lost its importance and fell into ruin after the decline of the Western Roman Empire.



Structure and Architecture

The Circus Maximus has been configured, since its origins, as a place of aggregation and spectacle, and during the Augustan principate and the immediately following years, its spaces were well defined and circumscribed. The dimensions are remarkable: it is indeed one of the largest entertainment structures of antiquity, with its 600 meters in length and 140 in width. The structure had four main areas: the cavea, the carceres, the spina, and the hemicycle. The cavea, where the spectators sat, was developed on three levels and was divided into four sectors, according to social hierarchy.

The carceres were nothing but the starting gates for the chariots, and constituted the limit of the Circus Maximus from the side of the Tiber to the opposite side of the Arch of Titus. The spina was the rectangular platform placed in the center of the Circus Maximus, dividing the track into two lanes, allowing the chariots and horses to turn around it during the races, and was decorated with a series of architectural and decorative elements, including obelisks, statues, columns, and other structures. To date, almost nothing remains of this decoration.

Finally, there was the hemicycle, which served various functions. Firstly, it served as the starting and finishing area for chariot races and other events held within the circus. Furthermore, its presence contributed to giving an impression of grandeur and magnificence to the structure as a whole.


The Circus Maximus Today

The ruins of the Circus Maximus have survived to the present day, and the site is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Rome, testifying to the importance and lasting influence of Roman culture over the centuries.

Today, the Circus Maximus offers a unique experience to anyone wishing to explore history and enjoy the beauty of nature in the heart of Rome. The large green area surrounding the track offers the opportunity for jogging, walking, or simply relaxing in the sun, while the ancient remains provide a suggestive historical backdrop.

This emblematic place is also the stage for numerous cultural and entertainment events, including shows, concerts, and sports events. In this way, the Circus Maximus is reborn as a vital center of social and cultural aggregation.


Visitor Experience and Attractions

The visitor’s route is well organized, thanks to the restoration work completed in 2016, and allows you to visit the galleries that led to the cavea stands and the shops adjacent to the street, as well as admire the entire archaeological area from a specially built panoramic terrace.

Particularly impressive is the Circus Maximus Experience, a 40-minute journey that takes place with the help of augmented and virtual reality and allows you to visit (virtually) the Circus Maximus in all its ancient splendor during the various phases of construction.

Hotel Santa Prisca is at only 15 minutes walking from Circus Maximus.