Circus Maximus: a little bit of history
The Circus Maximus (Latin for greatest or largest circus, in Italian Circo Massimo) is an ancient Roman chariot racing stadium and mass entertainment venue located in Rome. Situated in the valley between the Aventine and Palatine hills, it was the first and largest stadium in ancient Rome and its later Empire. It measured 621 m (2,037 ft) in length and 118 m (387 ft) in width and could accommodate over 150,000 spectators. In its fully developed form, it became the model for circuses throughout the Roman Empire.
The southeastern turn of the track ran between two shrines which may have predated the Circus’ formal development. One, located at the outer southeast perimeter, was dedicated to the valley’s eponymous goddess Murcia, an obscure deity associated with Venus, the myrtle shrub, a sacred spring, the stream that divided the valley, and the lesser peak of the Aventine Hill. The other was at the southeastern turning-post; where there was an underground shrine to Consus, a minor god of grain-stores, connected to the grain-goddess Ceres and to the underworld. According to Roman tradition, Romulus discovered this shrine shortly after the founding of Rome. He invented the Consualia festival, as a way of gathering his Sabine neighbours at a celebration that included horse-races and drinking. During these distractions, Romulus’s men then abducted the Sabine daughters as brides. Thus the famous Roman myth of the Rape of the Sabine women had as its setting the Circus and the Consualia.
After the 6th century, the Circus fell into disuse and decay, and was quarried for building materials. The lower levels, ever prone to flooding, were gradually buried under waterlogged alluvial soil and accumulated debris, so that the original track is now buried 6m beneath the modern surface. Many of the Circus’ standing structures survived these changes; in 1587, two obelisks were removed from the central barrier by Pope Sixtus V, and one of these was re-sited at the Piazza del Popolo. Mid 19th century workings at the circus site uncovered the lower parts of a seating tier and outer portico. Since then, a series of excavations has exposed further sections of the seating, curved turn and central barrier but further exploration has been limited by the scale, depth and waterlogging of the site.
The circus site is now a public park and it often hosts concerts and meetings.
When to go
The perfect periods to come and see the Circo Massimo are two: one in winter, especially during Christmas holidays, because here usually are organized concerts, meetings and parades, mainly for New Year’s Eve; the second one is May/June, for more or less the same reasons: concerts, demonstrations, meetings and so on…plus, in summer or spring this area is really really beautiful and has a very romantic atmosphere, with all the trees with flowers and the first summer fruits, everything is green, and the sun starts to go down very late so you can enjoy every single moment here in this amazing park, included a stunning sunset.
What and where to eat: the restaurants near Circus Maximus
This area and this park are very beautiful if you want to go for a walk or to stay in the park with a book all day long, so of course there are a lot of bars and paninerie all around, in my opinion, one of the best bar here is Bar Bistrot Gusto Massimo (Via del Circo Massimo 5), here you can have a panino or a sandwich or just a coffee but you can even have lunch sitting at a table and enjoying the view of Rome; if you’re looking for a place to have dinner or lunch, but you’re sick of pasta and pizza (strange but could happen), you can go to 0,75-Zerosettantacinque (Via dei Cerchi 65) where you can enjoy the best hamburgers of this area, the staff is very friendly and the prices are not too high, even if we are in the city center; another very good restaurant, a little bit fancier and with traditional Roman dishes, is Alvaro al Circo Massimo (Via dei Cerchi 53), their best recipe is the Amatriciana and the Lasagne, definitely worth everything.
How to reach it
Circo Massimo is very very easy to reach, because here arrives the subway, more precisely, the B line (the blue one), so if you are close to a subway station, you can’t get lost.
There are even some buses you can take, like for example number 75 from Termini, or the tram number 3.