Recent Excavations At The Circus Maximus, Rome

Circus Maximus

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At one time the Circus Maximus in Rome was just a vast grassy area. A pleasant place for a walk, or a picnic perhaps, but nothing more. But recent excavations at one end of the site have uncovered some of the original brickwork – seating, shops and more. The excavated area opened to visitors at the end of 2016.

Large grassy area with remains of the Circus Maximus
The Circus Maximus was the largest sports stadium of all time

History Of The Circus Maximus

According to one of the many helpful information boards, the Circus Maximus was the “largest sports and entertainment venue of all time”, with the ability to house more than 150,000 people. Dating back to the 6th century BCE, it was located in a valley between the Palatine and Aventine hills, just outside the city of Rome. For the next thousand years it was home to the ludi, public games associated with religious festivals. These included athletics, chariot races, plays and gladiator contests, as well as religious ceremonies and feasts. The festivities might also feature public executions!

Remains of the Roman stadium with archway and stairs
Spectators would have entered the stadium via this stairway

The Circus Maximus later fell into disuse and was plundered for building materials. The marble of the triumphal arch and of the temples at the centre of the stadium were particularly in demand. The area gradually reverted to agricultural use. In the 19th century, when it was still outside the urban area, it became an industrial zone with gasometers and manufacturing operations. Later the city expanded and the industrial activity relocated to the outskirts. At this point the Circus Maximus became a grassed leisure area, occasionally hosting outdoor concerts.

Remains of the stadium and of a Roman water mill
Climb the medieval water mill for the best view of the Circus Maximus

Exploring The Circus Maximus

Even today most of the Circus Maximus is effectively a public park. However there is plenty to see: you can walk up the steps by which the crowds would have entered and see the seats they would have crammed into to watch the sports. Around the entrance are the remains of shops. These housed not just the usual hawkers, but also taverns, betting shops and brothels. All the needs of the spectators were met; there were even public latrines and fountains for hand washing.

Brick wall containing a Roman latrine
A brick latrine provided for the benefit of spectators

Around the site you will see fragments of other structures, including the triumphal arch. This would have been a magnificent structure, allowing a mighty procession to enter the stadium at the start of the ludi. At the centre of the excavations is a tall tower. This is not Roman, but medieval, the remains of a watermill, and a reminder of the varied history of the site. Climb to the top of the tower to see the Circus Maximus spread before you like a massive football pitch, and try to imagine the roar of the assembled masses as they cheer on the athletes.

Archways at the Circus Maximus
Pinnable image of the excavations at the Circus Maximus

Some Other Lesser Known Roman Remains

Not surprisingly, Rome is full of Roman remains! But here are some of the less visited ones – 7 Lesser Known Roman Sites In Rome.

About Bewitched by italy

Bewitched By Italy is owned and managed by Karen Warren.

I have been writing and travelling for many years (almost 70 countries at the last count), but Italy remains one of my favourite destinations. This website is my attempt to inform and inspire other travellers, and to share some of the things I’ve discovered along the way. Read more…


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1 thought on “Recent Excavations At The Circus Maximus, Rome”

  1. “How very happy I am here in Rome when I think of the bad days
    Far back there in the north, wrapped in a grayish light.
    Over my head there the heavens weighed down so dismal and gloomy;
    Colorless, formless, that world round this exhausted man lay.
    Seeking myself in myself, an unsatisfied spirit, I brooded,
    Spying out pathways dark, lost in dreary reflection.
    Here in an ather more clear now a luster encircles my forehead.
    Phoebus the god evokes forms, clear are his colors by day.
    Bright with the stars comes the evening, ringing with songs that are tender,
    And the glow of the moon, brighter than northern sun.
    What blessedness mortals may know! Am I now dreaming? Or welcomes
    Jupiter, Father, as guest—me, to ambrosial halls…?”

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