Circus Maximus

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The Circus Maximus (Circo Massimo), literary meaning the "largest circus" or the "grandest circus", is an ancient Roman chariot-racing stadium and mass entertainment venue in Rome, Italy. Situated between the large plain valley between the Aventine and Palatine hills, it was the first and largest stadium in ancient Rome and its later Empire. In its fully developed form (circa 110 CE under emperor Trajan), it became the model for circuses throughout the Roman Empire.

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Overview

The Circus Maximus boasted an expansive and carefully designed layout, stretching some 621 meters (2,037 feet) in length and 118 meters (387 feet) in width. Its elongated shape, with rounded ends, created a distinct and iconic venue that could accommodate a vast audience, estimated to ve 250,000 spectators at its height. The central spina, a barrier running down the middle of the arena, further divided the space for competitive events.

The seating arrangements or the Cavea around the Circus Maximus were a marvel of ancient engineering. Stone tiers, known as cavea, surrounded the arena, providing seating for spectators. The cavea was divided into different sections based on social classes, with the most privileged individuals enjoying the closest proximity to the action. Remarkably, Circus Maximus could accommodate an estimated 150,000 to 250,000 spectators, making it one of the largest venues in not only the city of ancient Rome but the later empire as well.

The wonderous architectural ensemble of the Circus Maximus extended beyond the seating areas. Two Egyptian obelisks (the Flaminio Obelisk and the Augustan Obelisk), later moved to different locations in Rome, originally adorned the central spina. Additionally, several temples and altars dedicated to various deities surrounded the site, contributing to the religious and ceremonial aspects of the space. These structures added both grandeur and cultural significance to the architectural tapestry of Circus Maximus.

Circus Maximus was adorned with numerous decorative elements and statues that enhanced its visual appeal. The spina, in addition to the ancient Egyptian obelisks, featured ornate decorations, including statues of gods, heroes, and prominent figures. The architecture incorporated elaborate carvings and reliefs, showcasing the artistic prowess of the time. These embellishments not only reflected the grandeur of the events but also reinforced the cultural and religious importance of the arena within the Roman Empire.

Current Architectural Remains

circa 500 BCE - 600 CE

Remains of the Cavea
The current structures remaining on the site of ancient Roman Circus Maximus date back to the first half of the second century BCE.

Medieval Structures

circa 500 BCE - 600 CE

Moletta Tower
The Moletta Tower (Torre della Moletta), also known as the Frangipani Tower, is a medieval period tower on the south end of the Circus Maximus in Rome. The tower is the only structure that remains standing from the medieval period. At the time the area was called Torris in Capite Circi, but usually simply called Torre della Moletta (tower of the water mille). The tower is square and is slightly wider at the top end. Beneath the broad part there are blind arches, while on the top there are battlements.

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