Just below Palatine Hill is Circus Maximus, once the home of chariot racing, gladiator fights, and Roman games, and one of the most important sites in the ancient city. At 621m long and 140m wide it was the biggest stadium in ancient Rome and held 300,000 spectators. It was last used for chariot racing in the 6th century BC and was partially excavated in the 20th century. Excavation began in 1930, but the archaeological site only opened to the public in 2016.
As well as being an important ancient site, Circus Maximus is now a public park and event space, so in a way, it’s regained its importance as a cultural space for modern Rome. It’s hosted major concerts like Live 8 in 2005, The Rolling Stones in 2014, and was home to World Cup victory celebrations of the Italian Serie A team in 2006.
What to see
The main archaeological site is at the southern end of the park. Here you’ll see the galleries that led to the stands where spectators gathered to watch the games or chariot racing. There are the remains of rooms used for shops, laundries and warehouses, as well as where bets were placed.
You can also see the base of the Arch of Titus, one of the most important victory arches in ancient Rome. Fragments of Luni Marble from the arch have been recovered and placed at the foot of the Palatine semicircle.
To get a real feel for the size of Circus Maximus, go to the top of Torra della Moletta, which has been restored to give visitors a great vantage point over the whole complex.
As well as the archaeological remains, Circus Maximus is an ideal place to take a break from the hustle and bustle of the city. It’s popular with locals and you’ll see family picnics and joggers all using the park, as well as fellow sightseers. It’s a place to sit and imagine that you can still hear the thunder of chariots and the roar of the crowd.
Prepare for your visit.
The archaeological site is open for guided tours from Tuesday to Sunday, 10am to 4pm. The rest of the park is open all the time (unless there’s a big event on), so you can come and go as you please.
This is an ideal picnic spot so you might want to bring some food and drinks, bought from the local delis that line the streets nearby. The nearest supermarket is on Via dei Cerchi, to the north of the park. It’s a bit basic, but you can get a snack and a drink. For more choice, go to Supermercato Emme Piu, near the metro station, where you’ll find a good choice of deli items to give your picnic an authentic Italian feel.
You’ll find a few bars, cafés and restaurants dotted to the south of Circus Maximus, where you can sit down for a leisurely meal, or grab some quick snacks and a cold drink.
There’s very little shelter at Circus Maximus, so remember your sun cream and a good hat if you’re visiting in spring and summer, and something waterproof, if you’re here in the autumn or winter. You’ll find nasoni (water fountains) dotted around to keep your water bottle topped up.
Circus Maximus is near Palatine Hill, so it makes a good place to break your exploration of the big-name Roman sites. You’ll also find Roseto di Roma, a rose garden established in 1931, and Giardino del Arancini (garden of the oranges) within about eight minutes’ walk.
A little further away is Trastevere and Gianicolo, which is one of Rome’s prettiest areas, full of narrow streets and colourful houses. It’s got lots of restaurants and cafés, and if you climb Gianicolo Hill, you get a great view of Rome. If you’re in this area on a Sunday, visit Porta Portese flea market, which is open from 7am until 1pm. It sells a range of goods including books, clothes and handmade crafts.
How to get here
To get to Circus Maximus by metro take Linea B to Circo Massimo, which is about five minutes’ walk from the park. The nearest bus stop is Circo Massimo, and you can take bus 51, 75 or 81 to get here. It’s at the southern end and is just two minutes’ walk from the entrance.
You can buy your tickets from any manned metro station, newsagent, or Tabbachi, and choose either a single journey ticket or a multi-day pass.