For three decades, Venice hosted the winter quarters of the Greatest Show on Earth. 

Photos courtesy Venice Museum and Archives

The Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey winter quarters at the circus arena near the Venice airport was demolished late last fall after years of attempts to preserve it in some way; the building’s skeleton had remained in place long after the circus left the site behind in the early 1990s. But in its heyday, in the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s, the arena welcomed thousands of spectators as well as top circus performers, who rehearsed their new shows here. For residents and visitors, the arrival of the circus train was a memorable highlight of each winter season. These photos from the Venice Museum and Archives capture some of that history.

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Elephants crossing the Circus Bridge in Venice, post 1967

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An aerial view of the arena, circa 1967

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Woody Thayer shot this photo of circus dancers, circa 1965, looking much like Las Vegas showgirls. Perhaps the woman in the white jacket was their choreographer.

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The circus train and its animals draw a crowd, 1967.

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“The Circus Comes Home” as tired animals walk to their winter quarters after leaving the circus train at the end of a long season on the road.

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Performers appear in an undated photo, taking part in what looks like a patriotic spectacular.

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