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The Ancient Circus Maximus In Rome Is Worth Seeing

Determining if the Ancient Circus Maximus in Rome should be part of your vacation plans will depend on what experiences you want to have and this is your guide.

ancient circus maximus - open space

Largest Open Space In Rome?

The remains of the Ancient Circus Maximus are in the historic center of Rome, Italy and they are often included in the recommended Roman sites that you should see on your visit to the Eternal City. This guide should help you plan your next visit to the city and let you decide if spending time in Circus Maximus is really worth your time.

What Is The Ancient Circus Maximus Known For?

Circus Maximus was an ancient stadium in Rome used for chariot racing that sits between the Aventine and Palatine hills. It was the first and largest stadium built in ancient Rome, and even by today’s standards, if the stadium was still standing, it would be impressive in scale.

The stadium was built in the 6th century and in addition to chariot races, it was also used for the Roman games and gladiator fights. It was excavated in the 20th century and remodeled and it continues to be an important site even today. Because of the size, the Circus was also the most popular site for religious processions and beast hunts that were held on specially built stages.

At one end of the park you can see the remains of Torre della Moletta. This is a medieval tower that was built for defense. In 1145, the tower became the property of the Frangipane family who gave it its current shape and at the same time, they made it the center of a real fortified complex. The buildings around the tower, including the mill and other medieval houses, were demolished in 1943 when the Fascist Italian government thought of excavating the circus, a project however later abandoned due to the war events.

Ancient Circus Maximus - Palatine Hill

Palatine Hill Overlook

How Many People Did The Ancient Circus Maximus Seat?

The dimensions of this stadium in Rome measured 2,037 ft (621 m) long and 387 ft (118 m) wide and the Circus Maximus capacity was for at least 150,000 spectators, but because of the dimensions, it is believed that the stadium could actually hold closer to 250,000 people. It became the model for circuses throughout the Roman Empire, and a nearby example is Piazza Navona, which was built on the site of the Stadium of Domitian and known as Circus Agonalis.  The Circus Maximus site is now a public park.

Why Was The Ancient Circus Maximus Abandoned?

Like most things in life, tastes and interests change over time. After the collapse of the Roman Empire and throughout the Middle Ages, the Circus Maximus area was used as vineyards and vegetable gardens. In the 6th century, Circus Maximus began suffering from neglect and fell into a state of disrepair. The lower levels of the stadium were filled in with soil because they were prone to flooding. One of the obelisks on the spine of the track, the Obelisk Flaminio, was moved from the Circus to the center of the Piazza del Popolo and can still be enjoyed today.

What Are Three Facts About The Circus Maximus?

There are a number of interesting facts about Circus Maximus that you might find interesting, some of which are mentioned above, but these are my three favorites:

  1. The stadium was built to allow for seating of 150,000 people, but given the dimensions, could hold up to 250,000 spectators.

  2. Circus Maximus was the first and largest circus of the ancient Romans.

  3. The Circus Maximus had an Egyptian obelisk in the center dividing barrier, which was relocated to and can be seen today in Piazza del Popolo.

Ancient Circus Maximus - Event Space

Frequent Event Space

What Is The Difference Between Circus Maximus And Colosseum?

While there are similarities between Circus Maximus and the Colosseum (a.k.a. The Flavian Amphitheater), there are a couple of big differences, which are:

  • The Colosseum is better known than Circus Maximus and much of that is due what remains of both. While Circus Maximus was larger, one can only imagine the scale because very little remains, as opposed to the Colosseum, which has been maintained in a usable state for all to see.

  • The usage was a bit different. The Colosseum was used for more intimate gladiator fights, animal battles and even recreating historical sea battles, while Circus Maximus used its immense size for chariot races and religious processions.

Is The Ancient Circus Maximus Bigger Than The Colosseum?

Yes, Circus Maximus is bigger in footprint than the Colosseum. The Circus Maximus is roughly 2,000 feet by 400 feet in dimension (800,000 square feet), and the Colosseum is around 610 feet by 510 feet (more than 300,000 square feet). In addition, the seating for the Colosseum was at more 80,000 spectators (although many people estimate it to be 50,000) and the Circus Maximus had seating available for 150,000 people and a possible capacity of 250,000.

Is The Ancient Circus Maximus Worth Seeing?

It would be easy for me to say: “It Depends!”, but that wouldn’t be very satisfying. Anecdotally, I will say that on one of our first trips to Rome, we felt like it was important to find the site and we eventually did. We were sadly disappointed because every picture we ever saw had an artist’s rendering of an amazing structure, and when we found this sizable hole in the ground, we felt cheated. Before you judge me, keep in mind this was in the 1990’s and it was in the early days of the internet and images for Roman sites were not as ubiquitous as they are today.

In other words, if you think it is more than just a hole in the ground, I would suggest you spend your time enjoying other things. If you are planning on seeing a concert or enjoying another event held at the site of the Roman Stadium, you should probably check it out first. Also, there are some amazing sites nearby that you shouldn’t miss, so maybe check it out as you are passing by.

Ancient Circus Maximus - Spots For Concerts

Popular Place For Concerts

If You Plan On Seeing Circus Maximus Today

If you plan to visit the ancient Circus Maximus, then you should probably consider some other amazing sites that are in the neighborhood. Check out these links for more information:

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