The villa apartment I’m renting during my stay in Rome is literally across the road from Circo Massimo or Circus Maximus. If you know your Roman history, you will know that Circus Maximus was once the largest stadium in Ancient Rome. Its origins can be traced back to the 6th Century BC when a king, with the wonderful sounding name of Tarquinius Priscus, created a track for horse racing between the Palatine and Aventine hills.

The original Circus Maximus was built from wood and was destroyed by fire a few times. During the heyday of the Roman Empire, it was rebuilt in marble and travertine stone and could hold over 250,000 people. Horse chariot races were held there daily and Roman citizens would sit on the ground, on the slopes to watch the excitement of the chariots and their drivers. Between races, exotic animals were paraded or acrobats amused the crowds. Julius Caesar used the stadium to host a mock battle. But the glory days of the stadium were over after Caesar’s time and Circus Maximus fell into disrepair during the Middle Ages. I read somewhere that marble and stone were stolen or used in buildings in the rapidly emerging modern Rome.

Once I moved into the apartment, the first thing I did was walk across the road (being careful not to get bowled over by Vespas and cars whizzing by, largely ignoring the pedestrian crossing). I’m not sure what I was expecting – perhaps Caesar himself in charge of some chariot racing around the field. Or a huge structure of marble glittering in the sun. What I wasn’t expecting was basically a huge field of dirt and rubbish with people using the area for jogging and exercising. And a few rather sad looking walls.

Now that I think about it, the field probably isn’t all that different from what ancient Romans actually saw and used I guess. But unlike the Colosseum, it doesn’t look as though Circus Maximus has been preserved very well. Wealthy Romans had villas or apartments overlooking the field so they could watch the chariot races from the peace and quiet of their balconies. I’m not sure if some of the wall remnants include the villas.

It’s surreal to think that as I walk down the hill to the Metro station, Circo Massimo, I am literally treading the very ground that ancient Romans used to walk on. Every morning as I head off for work, I glance across at Circus Maximus and think about what the stadium must have looked like and how amazing the space would have been with a quarter of a million people or more shouting and milling around.

Circus Maximus - once famous throughout the ancient world, now basically a dusty field.

You can see the ruins in the background. Not sure if they are the walls of the ancient stadium. Will find out.

Modern Romans use Circus Maximus for exercise and jogging.