For the ancient Romans it was an enormous arena for "Ben Hur"-style chariot races, but for modern-day Italians it's little more than a big, dusty field. Until now.
Rome's city council has decided to spruce up the Circus Maximus whose history predates the nearby Colisseum by 600 years but is sometimes overlooked by both locals and tourists as the often trash-strewn site bears few signs of its former glory.
In ancient Rome, a circus was a large, usually oval arena for horse racing and public events and Circus Maximus -- "the big circus" -- was the original.
"It was the biggest circus for horse racing in the ancient world and was the model for all the others," said Eugenio La Rocca, in charge of cultural heritage at Rome city hall.
Hundreds of thousands of people still occasionally gather at one of the biggest open spaces in modern Rome. It was the scene for mass celebrations after Italy won the soccer World Cup and it was the venue for the Rome leg of the Live 8 concert in 2005.
But few would guess that a scrubby patch of ground at one end of the field, fenced off by rusty chicken wire, witnessed one of the most infamous events in early Roman history.
It was to that spot, according to La Rocca, that Rome's founder Romulus brought women abducted from a nearby tribe to populate the new city in the so-called "Rape of the Sabines".
"It's a little bit rotten. You need a lot of imagination to have a picture of what this place could have been in former times," said Ute Kluener, a German tourist.
A piece of marble column lying abandoned behind the chicken wire is one of few visible remnants of a triumphal arch that Emperor Titus erected at the circus in the first century AD.
As part of the 3 million-euro (2.6 million pounds) renovation, the fence will be replaced by a more elegant wall to give a better view of the site and archaeologists will further explore where 10 metres of earth that now cover the ancient track.
They will also dig along a 500-metre "spine" down the middle of the circus forming two hairpin bends for the chariot races.
Now a grassy knoll frequented by bongo players and frisbee fans, in the days of the Roman empire the spine was decorated with statues and the world's tallest Egyptian obelisk, which now stands outside the St. John Lateran basilica close by.
For now there are no plans to restore the circus to its former glory. Even the relatively smallscale excavations planned will be tricky as the water table is now above the level of the ancient track and the digs will need to be constantly pumped.
... well, it's a start, if nothing else.