Circus Maximus

Where was the largest building for shows in the Classical antiquity? In Rome of course!

The Circus Maximus, a runway of 600 meters long which could accommodate some 250,000 spectators, if not more. It extends between the Aventine and Palatine hills, and is just a few steps away from the Colosseum.

Made famous by the movie "Ben Hur" (and a recent 2016 remake), it was the scene of spectacular races where chariots pulled by 2 or 4 horses made seven laps around the plug, a central divider wall where two Egyptian obelisks once stood. These are still extant: they were renamed Flaminium and Lateran and were placed at the center of two important squares of Rome, Piazza del Popolo and across the Archbasilica of St.John Lateran.

Chariot Racing from the Ben Hur Film

Four teams of charioteers were distinguished by four colors (green, blue, red, white) inflamed the crowd that betted on their favourite team, just as we now bet on our favorite sport teams. The chariot races were the most popular and loved shows by the Romans and the charioteers were like true sport superstars, and they wer very rich! Today, the shape of the Circus Maximus is still clearly visible, despite the depredations of its stones which were recycled 4-5 centuries ago to build palaces and churches. Its foundations, recently brought to light by archaeological excavations, it has recently opened to the public.

The valley where the Circus was built in an area that is now one of the favorite destinations for practitioners of jogging and is sometimes filled, as it was 2000 years ago, by fans of the Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen and many other pop stars who have performed here and will perform in memorable concerts, on immense stages, right where Ben Hur and his opponents formations typically deployed their carts out of the starting gates.


Fabio S. (Walks inside Rome Guide)