Circus of Caligula

3d model and reconstruction

Circus of Caligula

The area currently occupied by the Basilica of Saint Peter in Rome was built for the first time under emperor Caligula when a new circus was constructed.

Its location in respect of St Peter’s Basilica – both ancient and current – is fairly certain: it has been recently suggested, based on new excavation assays, that it had its carceres at the level of the apse in what is now the basilica and the curved side where the south side of Bernini’s colonnade is, exactly the opposite of what had been assumed until today.

As is known, the Christian tradition places in this circus the martyrdom of Peter and in the adjacent necropolis his burial.

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Short history of

Circus of Caligula

The area of the Vatican always had the aspect of a zone outside the city, where tombs alternated with private villas, like the one built there by Agrippina, the daughter of Agrippa.

The area was also the site of a circus built by Caligula, in a position which corresponds today to the left side of the Basilica of Saint Peter. Along the spine of the circus was a great obelisk, 25 meters high, which was transported to Rome from Egypt on a specially built ship, at the emperor’s request.

At present the obelisk is situated in the center of St. Peter’s Square, while recent excavations in the area of the necropolis have identified its original base.

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