Rome

Circus Maximus

Visible from Palatine Hill, the Circus Maximus is one of the biggest ancient structures in Rome.

It was once able to accommodate 250,000 spectators for events similar to those in the Coliseum, including the Roman Games, gladiator battles, and chariot races. Though originally constructed in approximately 600 BCE, this arena’s current ovular layout was commissioned by Julius Ceasar approximately 500 years later.

Ancient Italy’s Kentucky Derby

The Circus Maximus was specially suited for chariot races. Though similar circuses could be found easily throughout the Roman Empire, the Circus Maximus was certainly the most famous and its races were the most prestigious. Much like the Kentucky Derby or the Preakness today, the races at Circus Maximus were massive public events and the wealthiest spectators would bet large sums of money on the winner. Further mirroring modern sport, the jockeys and even the horses themselves achieved a kind of celebrity status.

A Touch of Green

Today the Circus is a large public park. The seats and much of the arena have sunk below ground, but some of its ruins still stand. It is also a venue for events such as concerts and other large public gatherings. It is a beautiful, open area set between Palatine Hill and Aventine Hill: a perfect spot to have a picnic and enjoy one of the greenest and most ancient spaces in Rome.