A section of Rome's Circus Maximus, the ancient venue for chariot racing, has reopened to the public after seven years of renovation. Archaeologists have identified ancient shops and a cobbled road has been excavated.
Some 600 meters long and 140 meters wide, the Circus Maximus was a place where the elite of ancient Rome came to relax, mingle with the masses and put aside political differences, according to Marialetizia Buonfiglio, the archaeologist who oversaw the renovation.
Races between the Reds and the Blues thrilled the crowds of a population that, in the words of the satirical poet Juvenal, needed only "bread and circuses" to keep them happy. Long abandoned after the fall of Rome, the area became a residential neighborhood known as La Moletta but was cleared of its inhabitants under the regime of fascist dictator Benito Mussolini in the 1930s.
Only the northwest part of the original circus has been restored with the bulk of it still underground, said Buonfiglio, who hopes it all might see the light again one day.
From November 17, people will be able to visit the arched walkways where senators and plebeians once gathered. The long-awaited move comes amid mounting concerns about how the Eternal City can protect its unrivaled collection of churches, fountains and other historic landmarks.
The issue has been catapulted to the top of mayor Virginia Raggi's agenda after one of the city's most famous pieces of public sculpture, Bernini's Elephant and Obelisk, was vandalized earlier this week. "It is important to have give such a beautiful spot back to the city," she said at the inauguration ceremony for the renovated Circus Maximus.