The remains of a Roman circus were discovered in 2004, during investigations in advance of the redevelopment of Colchester Garrison, approximately 400m south of the walled town. It is significant because it is the only known example of a Roman circus in Britain.
It was built as a stadium for chariot racing, using a standard design found throughout the empire, using a standard design found throughout the empire. At one end of the track was a row of starting gates and at the other a sharp 180 degree turn. The two long straight sections were separated by a barrier called a ‘spina’, which supported a series of decorative columns and other features, including lap counters. The track was flanked by tiers of seating along the two long sides and the curved end.
The Colchester circus was around 450 metres long and 75 metres wide. It is estimated that it could have seated up to 15,000 people. It was constructed around AD 120, probably on the orders of the emperor, Hadrian, who was in Britain at that time. The circus had already gone out of use by the end of the Roman period.
Today the Roman Circus Centre provides information about the site and visitors can see reconstructions of the starting gates and the seating.