Circus Maximus in Rome

Little is left of the Circus Maximus in Rome. Marble seats and palatial boxes used to stream up the sides of the valley. At one time crowds of over a quarter million Romans would gather to witness the largest sporting events in Western Civilization, but now nearly all that remains is a lonely dirt track on a grassy field. The Roman Circus Maximus overlooked a variety of sporting events and religions processions - but the most famous of these were the wildly popular chariot races.

At the height of the Roman Empire, these races were a manifestation of the riches of the time - anywhere between 20 and 60 days a year were devoted to them. These were not simply sporting events, however. This was Rome, after all, and no one was going to accuse them of keeping things understated. From sunrise to sunset, Romans from every corner of the empire would travel to witness a combination of religious ceremonies, public gatherings and an average of 25 races per day. During breaks from the races, the arena also held a variety of religious ceremonies, boxing and wrestling matches - even the occasional gladiator exhibition found its way into the circus. It is presumed that the majority of Christian martyrdom in city also took place at the Roman Circus Maximus.

Though many of these circuses existed at the time (the term refers to any large arena), the first, and greatest, was the Circus Maximus in Rome. Founded by King Tarquinius Priscus in the 7th Century BC, the marshy valley separating Palatine Hill from Aventine Hill was drained specifically for its construction. The Circus Maximus design included a stretched oval arena with a flat end, which contained the starting blocks. Chariots would enter the track when metal barriers were lifted. A lavish luxury box was built high upon Palatine hill specifically for the Emperor to oversee the games.

The Circus Maximus design was lacking in one way, however, and as the city grew in population and wealth, the seating in the Circus had to grow to accommodate them. Stone counterparts quickly replaced the initial wood seats. Caesar ordered the construction and seating was increased to 150,000 before Trajan added his augmentations to the Circus Maximus design in the first century AD - now one could find 250,000 marble encased seats along the hillside.

Following the fall of the Roman Empire, however, the Circus Maximus in Rome suffered greatly. Medieval and Renaissance builders commonly looted the hills for stone and marble. The rest degenerated with time until all that is left is what we have today - legends and stories and a dirt track where the finest Roman athletes once made their names.

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