Much of this was prevented or re-routed (to Greece, for example) because of the Napoleonic Wars. After the final defeat of Napoleon in 1815, full Continental tourism was resumed. With the coming of the railways and the pioneering British travel company of Thomas Cook, this developed into mass tourism. Centuries of Continental tourism demonstrate the enduring interest in Classical history, ancient ruins, Rome and the Roman empire. Travel is much easier these days but, if you are in Essex and you want Roman ruins, then you only have to visit Colchester! We have ruins. We also have the only known site of a Roman circus in Britain, and it is ‘new’, as it was only confirmed as the site of a Roman circus in 2005. A week from today we will be re-opening the Colchester Roman circus centre and site to visitors (with an opening event on Saturday 28th March).

Early holiday travel

(Thomas Cook began his international travel company in 1841, with a one-day rail excursion from Leicester to Loughborough, which cost one shilling per person. He organised his first tour on the Continent in 1855 and his first trip to Switzerland in 1863. He led his first tours of Italy in summer 1864, with one to Florence and central Italy and one to Rome and Naples.)

An example of early travel writing is a book with a monumental title – Rome in the nineteenth century, containing a complete account of the ruins of the ancient city, the remains of the Middle Ages, and the monuments of modern times with remarksin a series of letters written during a residence at Rome, in the years 1817 and 1818 (volume 1, by Charlotte Anne Eaton, published in 1827 by J & J Harper of New-York). This extract is like an old snapshot or postcard from Rome:

… Though Romulus gave the games in honour of Neptune, which the Sabines attended, on the site of what was afterwards the Circus Maximus, the building itself was not erected until the reign of Tarquinius Priscus. During the progress of the republic, it was rebuilt, and frequently enlarged, and always merited its name, for it always continued to be the greatest…

During the reigns of the kings, the Circus Maximus was the only Circus in Rome, but in republican times there were several…
But all these remain only in name. Not one stone stands upon another. [Pope] Paul III., that universal destroyer of antiquities, removed the last remains of the Circus Maximus… Notwithstanding its destruction, however, the form and parts of the Circus Maximus (as well as of every other ancient Circus) are so accurately preserved in bas reliefs, medals, &c., and so fully verified by the nearly perfect remains of one upon the Via Appia, that I had no hesitation in having a complete plan of it drawn by one of the Roman antiquaries…

The site and environs of the Circus Maximus are still called Circhi by the people of Rome…

It is a mistake to suppose that the sports of the Circus were confined to chariot races. Horse and foot races, fights of gladiators, wrestling, boxing (with the caestus), leaping, and all sorts of active exercises, were exhibited here. Naval courses and games were celebrated in the close of the republic, in the Euripus, a canal sixteen feet in breadth, with which Julius Caesar surrounded the Circus Maximus; and thirty-six crocodiles were shown by Augustus to the eyes of the wondering Romans, after his triumphant return from Egypt. Combats of wild beasts were held in the Circus Maximus … in the days of Julius Caesar and Carinus.

This last prodigal and luxurious Emperor surpassed, in the pomp and splendour of the games and spectacles he exhibited, all who had gone before him. The care of his predecessor, Probus, had transformed the Circus into an artificial forest, filled with large trees … and its shades were successively tenanted by hundreds of the white plumed ostrich, the stag, the elk, the zebra, the cameleopard, and the majestic elephant; together with the hitherto-unseen forms of the bulky rhinoceros, and the hippopotamus of the Nile. The roar of Indian tigers and African hyenas resounded through the glade; the spotted leopard roamed at large; and hundreds of Numidian lions, transported from their burning deserts, and bears brought from their polar snows, were assembled and slaughtered in this ample arena…
In the long intervening period of the Empire that had elapsed between Caesar and Carinus, the combats of gladiators and wild beasts had generally been given in the amphitheatre; and chariot races, the proper Circus games, alone exhibited here…

One only of all the Circuses of ancient Rome remains, but it is in better preservation, I believe, than any other in the world. It stands on the Via Appia … and it is called the Circus of Caracalla [Circus of Maxentius] …

The walls of this Circus have scarcely even been partially destroyed, and their circuit is still entire. Whether its ancient pavement, or any remains of it, are still to be found, I know not, for its marshy arena is now covered with grass of emerald verdure; and when we last visited it, a flock of sheep were peacefully grazing in it…
Leaving the Circus, we pass through a door at the end, where the Carceres stood, into a large square, enclosed with high walls, of the same date and construction as the Circus itself, which has evidently been divided into small regular compartments, like stalls, of stables…

I shall not pretend to give an opinion on the knotty point, of what this building was, or was not … At present, it has been used to support a most wretched sort of Casino [little house], which, like most of those erections near Rome, has dwindled from serving the pleasure of princes, to the abode of Vignaiuoli [vineyard workers]. Around it, in the adjoining vineyards, are many ruins …’

a snapshot from centuries of Roman circus tourism…


Other historic books about the antiquities of Rome, including Roman circuses, and which are now published online:
* An Archæological Dictionary; or, Classical Antiquities of the Jews, Greeks and Romans, Alphabetically Arranged, by the Rev. Thomas Wilson (of Clitheroe), 1793
* A description of the antiquities and other curiosities of Rome, volume 2, by Edward Burton, 1821
* Travels in Europe Between the Years 1824 and 1828: Adapted to the Use of Travellers, by Mariana Stark, 1828
* Description of the circus on the Via Appia, near Rome, with some account of the Circensian games, by the Rev. Richard Burgess, 1828
* A manual of Roman antiquities, by Thomas Swinburne Carr, 1836
* The Penny Cyclopædia of the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge, volumes 7-8, published by Charles Knight & Co, 1837
* Roman Antiquities: Or an Account of the Manners and Customs of the Romans; Designed to Illustrate the Latin Classics, by Alexander Adam, J Boyd & Lorenzo Da Ponte, 1837
* A dictionary of Greek and Roman antiquities by various authors, edited by William Smith, 1842
* A Handbook for Travellers in Central Italy, including the Papal states, Rome, and the cities of Etruria, with a travelling map, published by John Murray and Son, London, 1843
* A Manual of Roman Antiquities, with numerous illustrations, by Charles Anthon, 1851
* A smaller dictionary of Greek and Roman antiquities: abridged from the larger dictionary, by Sir William Smith, 1868.

Source: Colchester Archaeology Trust