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Contemporary circus is relatively new subtype of circus (some 50 years relative to 250 of a traditional circus) which mixes elements of its predecessor with higher art and other type of media.
Philip Astley combined two types of show: horse riding tricks and acrobatic acts into a type of show we today know as circus. He owned many small circuses and three large: in London, Paris and Dublin. Read more about the father of the modern circus.
The Circus Maximus (or in Italian Circo Massimo) was one of the greatest entertainment venues of the ancient world. It was used for entertainment and in religious purposes. Some consider it as a predecessor of modern circuses. Today is a city park.
Circus of Maxentius is the best preserved circus from time of ancient Rome. It was designed and built with great care but it didn't see much use. Because of that we can today see, in great detail, how ancient circuses looked like.