After 1,500 years as a ruin, gladiators' stadium to be restored

It still bears its thrilling ancient name, and the antique ruins on the Palatine Hill, the heart of ancient Rome and home of the Caesars, still gaze down upon it. But now it takes a feat of the imagination to see Circus Maximus as it must have been in its pomp.

Today it is little more than a long, narrow park, 340 metres in length, with a small archeological dig fitfully in progress at its south-eastern end. It can still hold a crowd: Genesis played a free concert here last year, and Bob Geldof persuaded Rome's mayor, Walter Veltroni, to let him use it for the Italian leg of the Live-8 spectacular in 2005. The rest of the time it is the haunt of dog-walkers, joggers and the occasional conceptual artist.

But 2,000 years ago this was the most exciting spot in the city. Long before the building of the Colosseum, crowds in their hundreds of thousands packed the stands to watch 12 teams of charioteers scorch the earth. Gladiators and wild animals fought in mortal combat, and the central arena was often flooded so miniature triremes could battle it out for the Romans' delight. If a particularly large number of people had to be crucified, Circus Maximus was the obvious place to do it.

The strip's last big show was in AD549. Then the Barbarians arrived and laid it to waste, and for the next millenium and a half it was no more than a very large allotment with a fancy name.

But now, after the centuries of neglect and years of debate and campaigning, Circus Maximus is finally to get some attention. Beginning on 20 June, the city's archeological authorities are to begin a careful and respectful restoration.

Eugenio La Rocca, Superintendent of Rome and lecturere in archeology at Rome's Sapienza University, said: "We are trying to realise the old dreams that Rome has maintained from the 19th century up to the present. We will do our best to restore this site, which was of the utmost importance in our history.

"[Emperor] Tarquin drained the site 2,500 years ago, but it was Julius Caesar in 46 BC who erected the first buildings here, which were consumed by fire in AD64. With the Emperor Trajan, the performances began to assume the wondrous proportions that we only know today from films."

Professor La Rocca stressed that he will not be attempting to restore the Circus to its former glory. "We will clean up the whole site to make it practicable and legible, and give it a simple curved enclosure," he said. During chariot races the long track was divided by a raised spine of beaten earth, and this is one element the authorities plan to recreate.

They will also continue excavating, with greater urgency. Despite the fame of the Circus, Professor La Rocca told La Repubblica newspaper, "Paradoxically we have little information about it. Pliny claimed it could hold 250,000 spectators but others said 150,000, which seems much more likely." Treasures recovered from the Circus and other sites will eventually find a home in a new Museum of the City of Rome, to be built a few steps away.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
peopleMathematician John Nash inspired the film Beautiful Mind
News
Richard Blair is concerned the trenches are falling into disrepair
newsGeorge Orwell's son wants to save war site that inspired book
Life and Style
Audrey Hepburn with Hubert De Givenchy, whose well-cut black tuxedo is a 'timeless look'
fashionIt may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
Arts and Entertainment
The pair in their heyday in 1967
music
Life and Style
fashionFrom bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine