Friday, October 13, 2006

Circus Maximus - Rome

Circus Maximus - Rome

This photo of the Circus Maximus is part of one of the panoramic images found on the Tour of Rome. There are over 100 images taken from around Rome linked to an interactive map.

Full 360° panorama of the Circus Maximus

Unfortunately there is very little remaining of the Circus Maximus in Rome, very well known as the location of the chariot race in Ben Hur. It was far too convenient to plunder the building materials for other projects so this is now an open area used for walking dogs. It is a pitiful end to an arena which in it’s day could seat around 300,000 people, with almost the same number viewing from the surrounding hills.

There is evidence to suggest that the area of the Circus Maximus was first used by the Etruscan kings as a place for games as far back as 600 BC. It continued to be associated with public events and in 50 BC Julius Caesar expanded the arena. In 81, the Senate built a triple arch honoring Titus by the closed East end (not to be confused with the Arch of Titus on the opposite side of the Palatinum Hill near to the Colosseum and Roman Forum).

This was made for chariot racing, the track is about 600m long and 80m wide and could hold 12 chariots at a go. The two sides of the track were separated by a spina (spine) that ran down the center. At each end was a meta, a turning post the chariots would career round at dangerous speeds. The number of laps was marked by rotatable metal dolphins set along the top of the spina. The spina also supported various statues and Augustus placed an obelisk here (moved to Piazza del Popolo by pope Sixtus in 16C).

It is hard to imagine the chaos and confusion that must have resulted during the race, and the best depiction is probably still the chariot race in Ben Hur. Only one of the 12 chariots would survive the race, the others crashing at some point throughout. There was a dedicated crew whose only job was to remove the remains of ruined chariots and the dead and injured people and animals from the track without becoming track-kill themselves.

This image is taken from the lookout on the Via del Circo Massimo. Behind the Circus Maximus you can see the Palatine Hill and the ruins of Domitian’s Palace. Further panoramas from Rome are on An enlargement of this photo can be found on Flickr.

For more articles on Rome see the Rome Index or select one of the labels at the bottom.

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