The Italian Almanac

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chariot race

Chariot Race

The ancients' version of Formula 1 could once again enliven the Italian capital, with a series of high-speed chariot races. The historical society Vadis Al Maximo hopes to stage a major event next year, which would reproduce the thrills and spills of competitive charioteering, beloved of both the Romans and Greeks. ''The event would last three days, starting on October 17, at the same period when the race took place in Roman times,'' explained Vadis Al Maximo head, Franco Calo. ''If possible, we hope to involve charioteers from all over the world''.

The initiative is still being studied by various municipal departments but if given the go-ahead, it would be staged in October 2009, as a city-wide event. ''All the main squares of the capital would be transformed into scenes from Ancient Rome, using props on loan from the Cinecitta film studios,'' said Calo. But the effort involved in staging such an event would be enormous. ''According to our calculations, the Circus Maximus areacould hold up to 35,000 people''. Restoring Rome's Circus Maximus would include setting up platforms, security exits, a sidewalk, a stage at the centre of the course, a ditch and outdoor stables.

Although the Circus Maximus was the backdrop for a variety of games in Roman times, chariot-racing was the most important and popular event. At its height, the course could accommodate 12 chariots, each drawn by teams of four horses. Like Formula 1, the race was fast-paced and dangerous, often ending in crashes in which competitors died. The course covered a distance of about 6.5 kilometres and started at one end of the track, where teams were released from staggered starting gates to ensure everyone travelled equal distances - just like in modern races.