Hippodrome of Constantinople History, Architecture

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Obelisk of Emperor Theodosius I of Roman Empire.

Roman Hippodrome in Istanbul

Hippodrome of Constantinople

The word of Hippodrome originated from the Greek Lenguage: hippos (horse), anddromos (path). Horse racing and chariot racing were extremely popular in the Europe during Greek, Roman and Byzantine periods.

Green and Blue teams in the Hippodrome of Constantinople
There were mostly four-horse chariots (quadrigae) races.

Four-horse chariots (quadrigae) races in Hippodrome

Hippodrome of Constantinople History and Architecture

Byzantium’s first Hippodrome had formerly been built by Roman Emperor, Septimus Severus (203 A.D) Afterwards Hippodrome is reconstructed and enlarged by Contantine the Great when he created new capital of Roman Empire: Constantinople (New Rome) 330 A.D.

The Hippodrome is U shaped racing track. Curval Tribune of the Hippodrome is called as Sphendone. Emperors lodge is called as Kathisma. Central axis with monuments and columns Spina.

Structure of a Roman Hippodrome > Ciscus Maximus
This is the illustration of Circus Maximus in Rome. It was taken as model when Hippodrome of Constantinople was constructed.

Hippodrome of Constantinople Architecture modeling Circus Maximus of Rome

Great Palace of Byzantine Emperors

Great Palace of Constantinople was located at eastern side of the Hippodrome. The Kathisma, imperial lodge, could be accessed directly from the Great Palace, through a passage which only imperial family could use.

Emperor’s Lodge in the Hippodrome connected to Great Palace Of Byzantine Emperors
Grand Lodge of Emperors Hippodrome of Constantinople

“The Kathisma” Emperors Lodge to watch the games

Races and Riots: Hippodrome of Constantinople Facts

The Hippodrome of Constantinople, was the heart of city’s political and sporting life for a thousand years. There were mostly four-horse chariots (quadrigae) races. Charioteers were mostly slaves and , if they won, they were rewarded with gold.

These races weren’t simple racing events, but also provided some of the rare occasions in which the Byzantine emperor and the common citizens of Constantinople, could come together in a single place. Political discussions were often made at the Hippodrome. Dangerous riots of the city, like Nika Revolt, broke out in the Hippodrome.

Hippodrome Of Constantinople
Constantinople Capital of Byzantine Empire - Hippodrome of Constantinople

Map of Constantinople Byzantine Era

Ottoman Era

Afterwards during the Ottoman Empire period, Hippodrome was once again a scene of games and riots through 500 years of Ottoman Empire history. It was not named as Hippodrome though. Called as At Meydanı (Horse Grounds) because of its function in Ottoman times.

Map of Ottoman Constantinople
Map Of Constantinople In The Ottoman Period Hippodrome of Constantinople

Map Of Constantinople Ottoman Empire Era

Hippodrome of Constantinople (Istanbul)

There are the oldest monuments of Istanbul city in the Hippodrome Area. Here is a list of them from the oldest one Egyptian Obelisk to the most recent one German Fountain.

Obelisk of Theodosius (Egyptian Obelisk)

Monuments decorating the Hippodrome include the 3500 years old Egyptian granite called as Obelisk of Theodosius, brought to Constantinople by Emperor Theodosius I in 390 AD.

There is a remarkable artistic workmanship at the marble base of the Obelisk. Different depictions of the games can be seen on each side of the marble.

The Obelisk was erected in the name of Thutmose III in front of Karnak (Egypt) in the 15th century B.C. which means this is the oldest standing historic monument in Istanbul.

Obelisk of Theodosious with Egyptian Hieroglyphics
Theodosius Egyptian Obelisk Hippodrome of Constantinople Photo

Obelisk Of Theodosius & Egyptian Obelisk

It is a monolith made of granite and the words on it are Egyptian hieroglyphs praising Thutmose III. The original piece was longer than today’s measurement of 19.60 m. which is thought to be two thirds of the original. It was broken either during shipment or intentionally to make it lighter to transport. The Roman governor of Alexandria sent it to Theodosius in 390 A.D.

The Obelisk is situated on a Byzantine marble base with bas-reliefs that give some details about the emperor from the Kathisma and the races of the time.

Colossal marble base of the Obelisk of Theodisius
Hippodrome of Constantinople Roman Emperor Theodosius

Roman Carvings on Egyptian Obelisk

Serpent Column of the Hippodrome

After defeating the Persians at the battles of Salamis (480 BC) and Plataea (479 BC) the 31 united Greek cities, by melting the spoils of they obtained, made a bronze incense burner with three entwined serpents to be erected in front of Apollon Temple in Delphi.

This Column was brought from Delphi to Constantinople by Contantine The Great in 4th century. The column had been the subject of an interesting legend. You may find the link leading to full story at the bottom of the page.

Constantine Column (Walled Obelisk)

Unlike the Egyptian Obelisk, this is not a monolith but a column built of stones. Who erected it and when it was built are not known.

The column is 32 m. high and after three steps comes the marble base at the bottom. It is also thought that all bronze relief pieces that covered the surfaces of the column were probably plundered during the sack of Constantinople (4th crusade) in 1204.

Egyptian Obelisk > Serpent Column > Constantine Column
Hippodrome of Constantinople Ottoman Era on a Painting

Hippodrome in an old painting

Hippodrome is depicted on a single painting in Ottoman Era. From left: Egyptian Obelisk, Serpent Column, Contantine Column. Picture taken from the Istanbul History Book. (Stefanos Yerasimos)

German Fountain From Ottoman Empire Period

During his visit in 1901, Kaiser Wilhelm II of German Empire erected an elaborate fountain near the northeastern end of the Hippodrome as a gift to the sultan Abdulhamid II and his people.

Picture of the German Fountain in the Hippodrome
german-fountain-istanbul-hippodrome-constantinople

German Fountain in Hippodrome Square

Last Words

Hippodrome is a must-see in Istanbul city. Be sure that you do not just walk pass these ancient monuments as many people do.


Written by Serhat Engul

Hippodrome Of Constantinople (Istanbul)

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