Hippodrome - Atmaydani, Istanbul
The 'Serpent Column' stands in between the Walled Obelisk and the Egyptian Obelisk, the three surviving ancient monuments which were once displayed along the 'spina', the central reservation of the race-track.
It is a magnificent example of the metal-workers' skill in ancient times (probably made around 500BCE) and once stood at the entrance to the Temple of Apollo in Delphi. Three bronze snakes entwine themselves to a height of 8 metres, with their three heads (now lost) looking in separate directions. Each snake was once inscribed with the names of 31 sites where the Greeks battled the invading Persians, though those inscriptions are no longer visible to the naked eye.
The column was erected on the spina in the 4th century CE/AD and written records and drawings show that it was complete until at least the 1500s.
The sheer skill involved in creating this bronze column fascinated me on my first visit and, on my return in 2015, I was hugely pleased to find that excavations in the late 1800s had turned up part of one of the serpent heads. You can find it on display in Istambul's wonderful Archaeological Museum
What was once Roman and Byzantine Constantinople's hippodrome (track for horse racing) is now a pleasant park, popular with local families at weekends as well as with tour groups, visitors, hawkers, grilled-sweetcorn & chestnut sellers, water-sellers...you name it and you'll find it in At Meydam.
The central divide ('spina') of the hippodrome was decorated with at least three ancient monuments from elsewhere. At its eastern end there is an ancient Egyptian obelisk, dating from around 1600BCE. At the western end is the 'walled obelisk'. A Greek inscription in marble at its base suggests it was part of the statue of Apollo at the harbour of ancient Rhodes, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. That 'wonder' was ruined in the 4th and 5th centuries but the inscription states that this section restored by Emperor Constantine and his son.
All three surviving spina monuments are set deep below the modern-day surface, giving a clear idea of just how much time has passed since the city we call Istanbul was powerful Byzantine Constantinople.
Facing Sainte Sophie, a large square was a Byzantine hippodrome, now transformed in a gardened avenue.
It's highlights (excluded the surrounding marvels) are two obelisks and the ruins of a third one.
It's interesting to know that... once... there was a byzantine hippodrome in that place.
Nowadays we have a modern garden, with a few old columns: an obelisk brought from Egypt, a spiral column from Delphi, and the biggest and ugliest one that, it seems, was originally covered with bronze. It occupies the area adjacent to Saint Sophie and Blue Mosque but only reading the guides you will find out that... once...
The touristy centre of Istanbul is a garden that links Hagia Sophia with the blue mosque. Always crowded of people it is the place where photographers will find that there are no nice pictures from the monuments without strange people walking or resting but always in the most inconvenient positions, everybody bothering everybody in all the directions.
Everything happens there, and life is also a good thing to retain.
The Hippodrome is a place for good photos and walking around. Eat hot chestnuts and drink the hot flavoured milk sold around and generally stroll around the area. There are columns with inscriptions that speak about Egyptian/Turkish History.
The Hippodrome was a main center of life in Byzantine times. A stadium capable of holding some 100,000 spectators once stood here where now open parks give Istanbul an open living room amidst historical splendor. I was here during Ramazan and most of the western side of the park was taken up by a vast crafts fair. There are several ancient columns which used to stand in the middle of the Hippodrome chariot tracks. The Egyptian Obelisk dates to the 16th century BC and was brought here in 390 AD by Theodosius. The Serpentine Column commemorates the Greek victory over the Persians at Plataea in 479 BC. It was sent north from Delphi by Constantine. Another column dating from the 10th century used to be covered with metal tablets which have been stripped off with time.
At the northern end of the former Hippodrome is a more modern monument given to the city in commemoration of a visit by German Kaiser Wilhelm II in 1900.
Hippodrome of Constantinople is very ancient place. Today it isn't more than place for walking but some time ago there was chariot racing.
There are various monuments from Roman empire: Serpent Column, Obelisk of Thutmose III, Walled Obelisk, Statues of Porphyrios.
I would like to see Serpent Column renewed, but otherwise this is good place before entering to Blue Mosque.
After a really long day of running around sites and buildings, it's just great to end up there. An excellent reward for the kids for being so patient, is letting them feed the pigeons. A great photographic spot,too.
Sultanahmet is the historical part of Istanbul so we had the opportunity to see many landmarks of the city like Hagia Sofia, Blue Mosque, Palace Cistern, The Hipodrome Square, The Turkish And Islamic Arts Museum, the Topkapi palace etc.
Early in the morning the first site we visited at Sultanahmet was the Hipodrome. Although today it is just a square (Sultanahmet Meydani) it used to be a big race circus but you have to imagine about it because there are not many fragments survived from that era. It was first built when the city was called Byzantium although it became popular and much bigger (holiding 100,000 people!) during Constantine the Great days when the city was called Constantinople.
We visited the Serpent Column that was built to celebrate the victory of the Greeks against Persians in Persian Wars. Actually, it was called the Tripod of Plataea and was originally in the Temple of Apollo at Delphi in Greece. It was an impressive bronze column with a 8metre high serpent heads at the top that got stolen during the 4th crusade. Not much to see today except the base.
Then we visited the Walled Obelisk which was 32metres high and was originally decorated with gilded bronze plaques but again the crusaders needed some extra income so they stolen them.
Probably the most impressive monument on the area is the Obelisk of Theodosius(pic 1). Theodosius the Great brought from Egypt in 390AD. The obelisk was originally erected in Luxor back in 1490BC during Tuthmosis III kingdom (so I was impressed that I was in front of a piece of granite that was carved more than 3000 years before!!!). What see today is only the top of 3 different pieces that Thedosius brought to Constantinople.
Finally, at the northern end of Hipodrome we saw the German Fountain (pic 2). It was built in Germany in neo-byzantine style and transferred piece by piece in Istanbul in 1900 to commemorate the 2nd anniversary of german emperor Wilhelm II to Istanbul in 1898.
It was already 9.00am so we visited Museum of Islamic Arts(pic 3) which is located at the former palace of Ibrahim Pasha(1493-1536) that was the grand Vezir (and friend) of Sultan Suleyman the Magnificent. It houses a collection of 40,000 items covering a long period from the first period of Islam (7th century) till 20th century. We were impressed of some special carpets and some special carved woods. There are also glass, porcelain and stone items. Most of the art are religious themed of course but we also enjoyed some ethnographic exhibits like a full scale model of a nomad tent from 19th century. The museum is open Tuesday to Sunday 9.00-17.00 and the entrance fee is 10TL.
The name hippodrome is a Greek term for a stadium for horse racing and chariot racing. The Hippodrome of Constantinople was first constructed in 203 AD. When Constantine moved the capital of Rome to Constantinople, he expanded the hippodrome, making it a focus of recreation in the city.
The location of the Hippodrome is marked by the Serpent Column (c. 479 BC), the Obelisk of Thutmose III (c. 1490 BC), and the Walled Obelisk (10th century), all located on the original race track. More modern is the Kaiser Wilhelm Fountain (1900), and of course, the Sultanahmet Mosque.
The hippodrome, though today is just a flat square (called the Sultanahmet Meydani), was originally 1,476 feet long, 427 feet wide, and had stands that could seat 100,000 spectators. It is believed that many of the structures of the Hippodrome remain protected below Sultanahmet Square.
Now a part of Sultanahmet Square, the Hippodrome was once one of the largest tracks in the ancient world - second only to the Circus Maximus in Rome. It is now a landscaped park following the road from Sultanahmet Mosque to Hagia Sophia. Its construction started in 203 AD.
The Hippodrome is now an open-air museum displaying relics of ancient and not so ancient times. The oldest is the Egyptian Obelisk from the 15th century BC and brought from Egypt by the then Emperor Theodosius I. I is made from pink granite and was originally 32.5 metres high. It was reduced to 20 metres for transportation and now sits on a marble plinth. The plinth was constructed in 389 AD and depicts scenes of the activities of the Hippodrome.
The column of Constatntine dates from the 10th century and its 32 metre height was covered with decorated copper and brass. This was removed during the invasion of the 13th century and used to make coins.
The latest structure in the Hippodrome is the Kaiser Wilhelm or German Fountain. It ws a gift from the Kaiser in 1898 as he was impressed by the hospitality he received upon his second visit to Turkey.
Built in 203 AD by Emperor Septimius Severus, and enlarged by Constantine the Great, the Roman Hippodrome of Constantinople once seated as many as 100,000 spectators. Although the actual structure gradually disappeared to nothing over the centuries (its stones were used to construct the Blue Mosque), the footprint of the race track has survived remarkably intact. It is now an elongated urban park called At Meydanı, which means Horse Square, a name that refers to its use as a horse market under the Ottomans. Also extant within At Meydanı are some of the monuments imported by various Emperors to decorate the centre of the racetrack. Chief among them is the Egyptian Obelisk, carved in 1450 BC and brought in from Heliopolis by Emperor Theodosius, and its carved marble pediment made in 390 AD. The Spiral Column to the south of it dates from 478 BC and was moved from the Temple of Apollo in Delphi by Emperor Constantine in 330 AD. Further south is a damaged obelisk whose origins are known, but its bronze casing was removed by the Crusaders who sacked Constantinople in 1204 AD. They also stole the quadriga, the group of four bronze horses, which had been mounted on a non-extant column at the northern end of the racetrack. The quadriga was subsequently moved to Venice where it it can still be seen at the Basilica di San Marco.
Hippodrome is located in Sultanahmet area around Hagia Sophia and Blue Mosque which we now call Sultanahmet Square. This used to be the place where chariots and horses were racing during Byzantian era and later during Ottoman era Cirit (an ancient Turkish game played with horses) was played in this area. There are 4 interesting spots to check in Hippodrome. The first one is the German Fountain with beautiful details. The second one is the obelisk from Egypy. The thid one is the Serpents Column and the last one is Walled Obelisk. While visiting the main attractions suh as Topkapi Palace, Hagia Sophia or Blue Mosque, you can give a break to see the Hippodrome.
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).