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This tall obelisk stands at the far end of the Hippodrome and dates from the 4th century. It was originally covered with gilded bronze plaques, but they were sacked by Latin troops in the Fourth Crusade plus it originally had a bronze pine cone at the top but this was toppled by an earthquake in 869. In the 10th century the Emperor Constantine Porphyrogenitus built another obelisk at the other end of the Hippodrome.
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This peculiar bronze column lies in the middle of the Hippodrome, in the middle of two other monuments you'll come to if you walk down the Hippodrome from the Basilica Cistern. Each one was brought back from all parts of the Byzantine empire by different emperors. It was originally called the Tripod of Plataea and was cast to celebrate the victory of the Greeks over the Persians during the Persian Wars in the 5th century BC. Emperor Constantine ordered the Tripod to be moved from the Temple of Apollo at Delphi, and set in middle of the Hippodrome. The top was adorned with a golden bowl supported by three serpent heads. The bowl was destroyed or stolen during the Fourth Crusade (early 13th century). The serpent heads were destroyed as late as the end of the 17th Century, as many Ottoman miniatures show they were intact in the early centuries following the Turkish conquest of the city. Parts of the heads were recovered and are displayed at the Istanbul Archaeology Museum.
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Obelisk of Theodosius
This obelisk is the first of three monuments you'll come to if you walk down the Hippodrome from the Basilica Cistern. Each one was brought back from all parts of the Byzantine empire by different emperors. In 390 AD, Theodosius the Great brought this obelisk from Egypt and erected it inside the racing track of the Hippodrome. Carved from pink granite, it was originally erected at the Temple of Karnak in Luxor during the reign of Tuthmosis III in about 1490 BC. Theodosius had the then 30-metre tall obelisk cut into three pieces and brought to Constantinople. Only the top section survives, and it stands today where Theodosius placed it, on a marble pedestal. Each of its four faces has a single central column of inscription, celebrating Tutmoses III's victory on the banks of the river Euphrates in 1450 BC.
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Where horse racing and chariot racing took place
The Hippodrome was where horse racing and chariot racing took place and was a common feature of Greek cities in the Hellenistic, Roman and Byzantine eras. Today it’s part of the Sultan Ahmet Square.
Although the Hippodrome is usually associated with Constantinople's days of glory as an imperial capital, it actually predates that era. The first Hippodrome was built when the city was called Byzantium. In 203 AD the Emperor Septimius Severus rebuilt the city and expanded its walls, endowing it with a hippodrome, an arena for chariot races and other entertainment. In 324 AD, the Emperor Constantine the Great decided to move the seat of the government from Rome to Byzantium. Constantine greatly enlarged the city, and one of his major undertakings was the renovation of the Hippodrome. It is estimated that the Hippodrome of Constantine was about 450 m (1,476 ft) long and 130 m (427 ft) wide. Its stands were capable of holding 100,000 spectators.
To raise the image of his new capital, Constantine and his successors, especially Theodosius the Great, brought works of art from all over the empire to adorn it. The monuments were set up in the middle of the Hippodrome, the spina and are still here today (see next tips on each one).
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HIPPODROME & ANCIENT COLUMNS
THE "Hippodrome" also known as "The Horse Square" in the Ottoman period, is located near the Blue Mosque.
During the Byzantine period, chariot races were held here. The square was the most central region in that period, where important activities were held such as various entertainments, coronation ceremonies and victory parades.
It was a huge area, with a width of 117 metres, and length of 480 meters, and could hold a capacity of 100 thousand people.
Also located here, are another three important monuments............
THE EGYPTIAN OBELISK........ 1500BC, Which Constantine transported from Luxor, Egypt.
THE SERPENTINE COLUMN.....479BC, From the Temple of Apollo at Delphi in Greece.
THE COLUMN OF CONSTANTINE VII PORPHRYOGENITUS........Is of unknown date and was named after the Emperor who had it restored in the 10th century.
ALL ARE FREE TO WANDER AROUND.
THE STADIUM once had four great bronze Horses, but these were looted by the crusaders in 1204, and now are in St. Mark's Cathedral in Venice, so, at least they weren't lost for good in history!
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Column of Constantine Porphyrogenetus
The Column of Constantine Porphyrogenetus is a tall column made of stone blocks in Istanbul's Hippodrome. The column's sides were originally covered with bronze reliefs. However, those were removed by invading Crusaders during the 4th Crusade in the 1200s.
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The Hippodrome in Istanbul features three ancient columns. The most famous of the them is the Egyptian Obelisk, which is exactly what its name suggests - an obelisk that was imported from Egypt. The obelisk was originally carved during the reign of Pharoah Thutmoses III in the 15th century, BC. The sides of the obelisk feature hieroglyphics related to Egyptian gods. It was moved from Egypt to its current location during the reign of the Roman emperor Theodosius, and is therefore sometimes called the "Obelisk of Theodosius" or "Column of Theodosius". The obelisk, which is about 20 meters tall, rests on four marble slabs that feature Greek and Latin inscriptions about the Roman royal family.
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Kaiser Wilhelm Fountain
The newest feature at the Hippodrome site was a gift marking the second visit of Germany's Kaiser Wilhelm to Turkey and Sultan Abdulhamid II in 1898. It was constructed in parts in Germany and shipped to Turkey for assembly and features an octagonal dome covered in mosaics supported by eight marble columns. It occupies the approximate site of the Byzantine Emperor's seats. The original inauguration date was set for the 25th anniversary of Abdulhamid's ascendancy but construction delays deferred the date to 27 Jan 1901, the Kaiser's birthday.
The visits of Kaiser Wilhelm were of great political importance to Germany. Not only did the Kaiser gain approval for a German railroad through Turkey to Persia allowing for transport of goods for business as well as military forces. The impoverished Ottoman Empire had no funds for this project. Germany also won rights to search for oil within the Ottoman Empire. Perhaps most important from a historical viewpoint is the alliance of the two nations which lasted through WWI.
Serpentine Column and Column of Constantine
The Serpentine Column is one of the longest surviving relics of Greek antiquity, dating to 479BC. It honored Apollo for his aid in defeating the Persian invaders of Xerxes I at the battle of Plataea which effectively ended Persia's campaign to subjugate the Greek city-states. It stood originally in front of the temple of Apollo in Delphi, forever intended to recall the support of the Delphi oracle for the Persian invaders.
As originally constructed, the memorial was eighteen feet high composed of three intertwined snakes. The bronze bodies were etched with the names of the city states which contributed money and men to the war, in descending order of the size of their contributions. The heads of the snakes supported a golden bowl.
Today only 15 feet remain. A golden tripod lasted just a century, melted down to fund a war between the city states. When the bowl disappeared is uncertain - but most authorities suggest it was stolen during the desecration of the city by the Fourth Crusade. The snake heads were next to go - Ottomans likened snakes to the devil and dismantled them. One source suggests the heads were knocked off by a drunken Polish ambassador in 1702 while other say they just fell off one day. One of the three heads currently resides in the Istanbul Archaeologic Museum. Only the column remains, excavated in the 19th century. Note how far below current ground level the column extends, to the level of the original spina.
The Column of Constantine is often attributed to the 10th Century Emperor Constantine VII, but is now believed to be the oldest structure existing built for the Hippodrome. The location is near one end of the modern square but actually is at the central point of the original stadium. It is almost 100 feet high topped with a globe and made of natural stone. It was covered with bronze plates embossed with images of Emperor Basilius the Macedonian and his wartime victories. in the late 800's. Constantine VII may have repaired these plates. The plates were looted by the Fourth Crusade to make coins leaving exposed the stone.
Obelisk of Thutmose III and Nika Revolt
The oldest monument in the Sultan Ahmet Square is the Obelisk of Thutmose III located centrally in the former spina directly in front of the imperial box (kathisma). The obelisk was about 2000 years old, created to honor a military victory at the Euphrates River in 1450BC by Thutmose III and placed at the great temple of Karnak. Emperor Constantinius III had two of the Karnak obelisks removed to Alexandria in 357 AD. The second is the Lateran Obelisk is the Circus Maximus of Rome. The obelisk bound for Constantinople took considerably longer to arrive, and in transit the lower ten meters were broken off and lost, leaving a twenty foot monument of pink granite. Theodosius I finally placed it in 390AD, set on a marble pedestal with reliefs and Greek and Roman inscriptions celebrating Theodosius and his family.
The column itself has four sides with central inscriptions about Thutmose III. The four sides of the marble base have an assorment of reliefs----
Image 2 - Theodosius and his family and retainers. Seated with him under the central portico are his two sons Arcadius and Honorius between whom the Roman Empire would be divided into East and West on his death.
Image 5 - Theodosius receiving the ambassadors of the defeated barbarians.
Image 3 - the upper level depicts the erection of the obelisk, which took over a month. On the lower level, a chariot race.
THE NIKA REVOLT - the Hippodrome was the absolute center of Constantinople. Sport, culture, politics, business - the stadium was the epicenter of Byzantine life. The two major political factions sponsored the two competing teams for chariot races and sporting events and even were named after the colors worn by their charioteers. The Greens represented the less wealthy and more politically and religiously liberal, while the Blues represented the more conservative and wealthy faction. They ( men only ) occupied the two long axes of the stadium with the emperor in his private enclosure in between. Frequently, sports or political disagreements led to unrest, squabbles, and outright battles between the two sides. In 1532, during another typical melee, Emperor Justinian arrested and executed the ringleaders from both sides. The Blues and Greens united in the Nika Revolt ( Nika meaning victory, as in the modern day sports company ). Their revolt destroyed much of the Hippodrome, the Hagia Sophia Church, and other major buildings. Justinian prepared to run, but the Empress Theodora ordered her general Belisarius to use mercenaries to put down the revolt. 30000 men were trapped inside the stadium and methodically slaughtered to the last. Rebuilding by Justinian led to many of the sites we visit today.
Modern day Sultan Ahmet Square, also known as Horse Square, is a grassy rectangle adjacent the Blue Mosque featuring one recent and three ancient relics of the Hippodrome (Gr - horse way). For centuries it was the social, political, and sporting center of life in the Byzantine capitol of Constantinople. Chariot and horse races, gladiator contests, and other sporting events were favored pastimes of the Greeks, Romans, and Byzantines with the original track built in 203 AD by the emperor Septimius Severus. In 324, Constantine the Great moved the seat of the Roman Empire Government to the city that bore his name. One of his lasting structural legacies is the enlargement and redecoration of the racetrack. Most of the racetrack remains unexcavated below ground - note how far below ground level the enclosures for the relics extend. The southwestern wall, which lies far beyond the square, has been more fully uncovered and gives an impression of the massive size of this structure. Image 1 shows the square against a background of the Hagia Sophia. At 130 x 430 yds, its capacity has been estimated at anywhere between 50000 and 100000 spectators. Images 3 and 4 depict the walls of the original Hippodrome, located at some distance from what is called the Hippodrome today for tourists, and give an idea of how dominating and massive a structure the stadium must have been.
The featured relics are in a vertical array at the site of the spina or center of the track around which the races were conducted. The paved roadways filled with tour busses are at the approximate site of the track itself, which was then surrounded by a high set of spectator stands with storerooms, stables, chariot garages, and rooms for the contestants. The seats were accessed by many doorways leading to colonnaded galleries. Most of the statues and monuments have been removed to museums, including the quadriga at St Mark's in Venice looted by the Crusaders in 1204. Bronze statues of gods, politicians, emperors, famous horses and charioteers have all been lost to time.
After the sack of 1204, Constantinople never regained its importance as a world class city and the Hippodrome gradually deteriorated. The Ottomans had no use for chariot races. The square was used for occasional royal feasts such as weddings and circumcisions of the Sultan's sons but the original structures became lost over time through benign neglect. There are many objects from the Hippodrome in museums around the world, but all that remain at the original site are the three monuments from the spina and the excavated southwestern stadium.
The Hippodrome, which is the square next to both the Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sophia, is probably one of the oldest sites in Istanbul. It was originally built by the Romans in around 200AD, and would have been used for chariot racing and the like. It contains three columns, which are all that remain of the many that once lined the hippodrome, erected by the Emperor Constantine.
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The site of the ancient hippodrome, essentially a racing circuit, is facinating, as some of the objects that were racing around on a large, long oval like track with two sharp corners, are still visible today, such as the Serpentine column among other things.
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The Hippodrome is on the north-west side of the Blue Mosque. Created in the 3rd century AD by Emperor Septimus Severus it was once the heart of the Byzantine city of Constantinople. The area was used for chariot races, coronations & parades.
Nowadays the area where the chariots would have raced round is an elongated park surrounded by roads. A few ancient monuments still survive here though. The Egyptian Obelisk which was built in 1500 BC & stood outside Luxor until Constantine brought it to the city. Next to it is the Serpentine Column which was brought here from Delphi, the heads of the serpents were knocked off in the 18th century. The third column is known as the Column of Constantine, it was once covered in gold-plated bronze, but now is in a damaged state.
The hippodrome area was an area of great importance to the Byzantine and Ottoman empires. Since it was an area of such significance it was adorned with ancient masterpieces donated or purchased by this emperor or that emperor. Now to your benefit this peices adorn this square for your viewing. Featured is the Kaiser Wilhelms Fountain, which was donated in early 1900's,
The Obelisk of Theodosius (see picture), the oldest monument in Istanbul a carved pedestal from Egypt which dates to approx 1549-1503 Brought to Istanbul in AD 390. Yeah thats right, it's 3500 years old!!!!!!!!
Next the spiral column, which was once part of a golden basin with three serpent heads on the top, was built in celebration to the Hellenic victory over the Persians. It once stood in Delphi from 478 BC til AD 330 when it was brought to Istanbul. The serpents heads have since been knocked off, one is featured in the museum.
Lastly the Rough-Stone Obelisk was built in the 4th century, was damaged in an earthquake in 869. It was once covered in bronze, with a bronze cone on the top,now stands as though it may crumble at any moment. The bronze plates were ripped off in the fourth crusade, but you can still see the holes in which they were drilled into the stone.
Overall the Hippodrome isn't that spellbinding, at least in comparison with the wealth of sites that Istanbul offers, but it definately demands 30 minutes of your time and is a short walk from Sultanahmet park
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