The circus originated in animal shows. In London the British equestrian Philip Astley (1742-1814), who is regarded as the father of the modern circus, built an amphitheatre with a circular ring, where in 1769 he started giving riding demonstrations. As he rode in a circle, horse and rider always remained within the range of vision of the public. Moreover it was easier to keep upright on a horse riding in circles. Even today the circular ring, filled with sand and sawdust, is a major characteristic of the circus.
For a long time horses were the only animals in the ring. It took a very long time before exotic animals such as elephants and lions were introduced. Many circuses owned a large zoo of their own, the so-called menagerie which travelled along with the performers and was opened to the public before or after the show. Some animals were transported in real cages, but most of the stables were simply made of canvas. For many people visiting the menagerie was just as exciting as the performance in the circus, for it was the first time that they actually could see certain wild animals.