See the largest arena of Ancient Rome at the Circus Maximus.
Imagine 250,000 people roaring as chariots tear around a circuit vying for victory; 2,000 years ago this was reality at the Circus Maximus, the largest of all the arenas built in Ancient Rome.
You can still see the well-worn tracks of the now grass-covered racing circuit and ruins of the stands today.
- Step on to the race track and marvel at the sheer scale of the largest arena in Rome.
- Imagine the sound of thousands of spectators shouting and chariots clashing as you relax on the grass.
- Explore the ruins of the south-east stand to get a glimpse of the arena at its peak.
What to see and do
Though there is little left behind of the stands and fixtures of this ancient stadium, you will still see the foundations that formed the distinct shape of the arena. This is what you can expect to see when you visit:
The Race Track
Upon stepping foot into the arena, you will immediately notice the carved out shape of the 621 metre long race track. You can see the size of the track and imagine the scale of the races just from this first impression: races at the Circus Maximus are an image brought to life most famously for modern visitors by the Hollywood classic Ben Hur.
A narrow canal was built between the track and the stands to protect the spectators and provide a drainage system for the arena. After being abandoned following the final chariot races in the 6th century, the Circus Maximus quickly fell into disrepair. Ever prone to flooding, the race track gradually became buried beneath layers of silt and mud; today, the original track is buried six metres below the surface.
South East Stand
While most of the stands in the stadium have been lost to time, the south east stand has been preserved fairly well. This stand gives the clearest insight to visitors on the appearance of the arena in its heyday. You can see where spectators would have sat and merchants would ply their wares almost two millenia ago.
You will gain a greater understanding as to the scale of the stadium by imagining these stands wrapping around the entire arena, as they would have done at the height of the Roman Empire.
The Circus Maximus is located just behind Palatine Hill in the heart of Anicent Rome, on Via del Circo Massimo. It is close to the Roman Forum, and a short walk from the Colosseum.
The nearest metro stop is Circo Massimo (Line B), or, alternatively, the preceding stop Colosseo, which is around 10-15 minutes away on foot.
Plenty of bus routes stop at the Circus Maximus; you can catch any one of 51, 81, 85, 87 and 118 to reach the ruins, and these are only a small selection of the buses available. If you would prefer to avoid the buses and metro, you can catch the number 8 tram to Aventino/Circo Massimo, the nearest tram stop to the stadium.
Did you know that: (5 Interesting Facts!)
- The Colosseum may be the most famous arena left over from Ancient Rome, but it wasn’t the largest. The Circus Maximus could hold 5 times as many spectators; though exact numbers aren’t known, estimates range from 150,000 to 350,000 spectators, far exceeding the 50,000 seats at the Colosseum.
- Chariot racing was one of, or arguably the most popular sport in Anicent Rome – and was also one of the oldest, as it originated in Ancient Greece. A race typically consisted of seven laps, with four to six competitors. Chariot racing was incredibly dangerous for both the drivers and horses, and often led to deaths or serious injuries.
- The wide open field of the arena is often used as an outdoor venue for performances. Concerts and plays are often performed here, in-keeping with the Circus Maximus’ longstanding history as a centre for entertainment.
- Though the partially remaining structure can be dated back to a similar time to the Colosseum, the Circus Maximus is far older. The origins of the arena date back to six centuries before the Colosseum was built.
- Unlike most ancient sites in Rome, the Circus Maximus is free to enter and explore as it is a public park.
- Though we rightfully associate the Circus Maximus with its primary purpose of sport and entertainment, it also had religious connections. Shrines and temples overlooked the circuit, and the sun and moon gods, Apollo and Diana, but particularly the former, were considered patrons of the games.
Discover the long history of the Circus Maximus in this brief timeline:
- 6th century BC. The track of Circus Maximus is carved out for chariot races early on in Rome’s history.
- 329 BC. Wooden stalls for seating are built and permanent starting gates are constructed.
- 50 BC. Due to popular demand, the stadium is expanded to hold more spectators and a larger track.
- 31 BC. A fire causes significant damage to the arena. Augustus conducts repairs, with the addition of the Ancient Egyptian ‘Flaminian’ obelisk from Heliopolis, which would much later be erected in the Piazza del Popolo, where it stands today.
- AD 64. A devastating fire begins in the stalls and shops within the stadium, causing untold damage and quickly spreading throughout the city. The Circus Maximus is rebuilt with a larger capacity the following year.
- AD 549. The last official chariot race at the Circus Maximus occurs.
- AD 1588. Two Egyptian obelisks are unearthed at the site, one is moved to the Piazza del Popolo, another to the Basilica of St John Lateran.
- 21st century. Concerts are performed in the arena – the likes of the Rollings Stones and Genesis are two of the more notable examples.
Address: Circus Maximus, Via del Circo Massimo , 00186 Roma, Italy · view larger map