The Circus Maximus, known in Italian as Circo Massimo, has been a site of public entertainment since the time of the Etruscan kings. It was first developed during the period of the Republic; Julius Caesar expanded it to the 600 metre racetrack of which the outline remains today.
The Circus Maximus is still used for public spectacles today: the Rome leg of the Live 8 Concerts took place here, other bands regularly play in the park, and the funeral of pope John Paul II was relayed on large screens to crowds that filled one end of the circus.
Things to See
In recent years, excavations have revealed a fairly extensive portion of the original structure of the eastern end of Circus Maximus, making the photograph above rather outdated. Walking around the perimeter it's possible to look down into the excavations and there are sometimes information boards up. The two Egyptian obelisks that once stood in the circus have long since been moved; one now stands in Piazza del Popolo, while the other (which is the largest Egyptian obelisk in the world) can be found in front of San Giovanni in Laterano.
The remainder of the long oval of the racetrack has become a park, a pleasant green area in the centre of the city.
Chariot Races in Rome
The Chariot races in Circus Maximus were an important part of life in Imperial Rome. Although up to 12 chariots would take part in a race, they were divided into four teams (or 'factions'): Blue, Green, White and Red. Chariots from each team would collaborate to block the other racers. These teams inspired great loyalty among their fans who would bet on the races; throughout the time of the empire the teams became increasingly powerful, even gaining some political influence.
Visiting the Circus Maximus
From the Colosseum, head south along Via di San Gregorio. It's a two minute walk. If you're coming by metro, get off at the stop Circo Massimo on Linea B. Access may be limited, or barred completely, if there's a concert or other ticketed event on, so check local listings if you're planning a special trip.