Circuses in Rome (not the clown kind…)

Anyone who is a fan of Rome should be reading Andrea Palladio’s treatises on Rome — he wrote three of them: one about Ancient Rome, another about the churches, and third about the stations of the cross. Personally, the first treatise is the most interesting, but the other two are equally worth reading and make great additions to your standard guidebook. Even though much of Palladio’s information is “old,” he describes the city as he saw it hundreds of years ago. His descriptions of the city go far in taking you “back in time” to the splendors of Rome. Yale University Press recently published an updated translation of the work complete with photographs and diagrams, and this book can be easily found online (at, for example).

In this post, I want to discuss the “circuses” of Rome. When I say the word “circus”, I don’t mean the the clown and elephant kind. The circuses were narrow in width, long in length with raised seating “upon which people could sit to watch the said events” and were used, according to Palladio, “to stage bullfights and races with horses yoked to chariots”. The Circus Maximus is probably the most famous of them all, located between the Palatine and Aventine Hills and “upgraded” by various rulers and important people in Rome over the centuries it was in use.  These spaces were important for the citizens of Ancient Rome, and many of them serve as important spaces even today!

Apart from the Circus Maximus, there was also the Circus of Nero, Circus Flaminius, and the Circus Agonius. The Circus Agonius is probably more familiar to tourists today as the Piazza Navona (pictured).  The Circus Maximum is now just an open field and often hosts outdoor concerts and political rallies — do take care in and around the Circus Maximus, even during the day! It has been the scene of muggings and violent crime for some tourists.  Always travel safe and be smart!