The area now overshadowed by Sultanahmet Mosque
was, during the Byzantine period, the scene of horse-racing in the hippodrome. The
hippodrome first built by Septimus Severus, and enlarged by Constantinus, was flanked on
three sides by tiers of seats for spectators.
The Imperial stand was situated on the site of what is now the German
Fountain. Originally it was an arena for wild beasts then a ditch was built around
it to protect the spectators from these animals. Later when such games were abandoned a
long terrace (called the Spina) was built in the center, upon which were set up the
Dikilitas (Obelisk), Burmali Sutun (Spiral Column), and statues showing a man in combat
with a lion, a dying bull, a Hercules by the sculptor Lisippos of Chios, an unruly horse,
and an eagle grasping a snake. The hippodrome, which was 118 m. wide and 370 m. long, had
high walls. It had a capacity of 100.000 spectators, and had entrances through both of the
long walls and also the Antiochus Portal, below the Emperors Loggia. Forty rows of
seats supported by arcades lined the arena.
The stairs to the tiers and the circular promenade above them were decorated with
statues. The Emperor Wilhelm Fountain (Alman Cesmesi) now occupies the site of the what
was Emperors Lodge, from which the Emperor and his court would watch the games. Here
he rested, dined, and received visitors. The gallery in front of this lodge was
tower-like, and decorated with four bronze statues by Lisippos of Chios. The silken
banners which adorned the Imperial Lodge as protection against the sun were seemingly the
augurs of the games, and after preparations were completed, the spectators would gather in
the hippodrome at an early hour to watch the combat between the greens and the blues,
taking sides in each combat, and fiercely supporting their champions, even to the extent
of fighting amongst themselves. It is said that at this stage the emperor would retire to
his place along a raised traverse until the uproar had died down. Eventually these games
were forbidden, and the hippodrome was used only on days of festival.
It is believed that during the Latin occupation of Istanbul,
the statues of the hippodrome were torn down, metal plaques melted down for re-use, and
the finest works removed to the west. For example; four bronze horses now decorating the
facade of St. Marco in Venice. By the time of the Turkish conquest of Constantinopolis
(now Istanbul), the once grandeous hippodrome was largely abandoned and now in ruins.
Two obelisks facing one another are still to be seen in Sultanahmet
square. One of these, which is inscribed with Egyptian hieroglyphics was brought to
Istanbul from Egypt by the Emperor Theodosius, and set up in its present position in the
hippodrome. It was given the name the column of Theodosius, and is 18.45 m. in height,
24.87 m. including the base. It is constructed of Syenite porphyry, weighing 200 tons,
which is supported on a marble plinth measuring 2.75 x 2.20 m.
The plinth is decorated with bas-reliefs showing the life of Theodosius. The northern
face shows the Byzantine emperor Arcadius together with his wife,
Eudocsia, seated in the Catizma of the hippodrome. The western face shows the Emperor
Theodosius, enthroned, together with his wife and his children, Arcadius and Honorius.
Before them are the defeated enemies of the empire. On the eastern face, the Emperor
Theodosius is shown watching the games together with his two children, while on the
southern face, the Emperor Theodosius is shown with his two sons on one side and on his
left Valantinian II, watching a chariot race.
This column was transported by sea, then, brought to its present site on
a specially constructed road, and according to an inscription was set up in 32 days with
the help of scaffolding. The hieroglyphics are to the glory of the Pharoah Tutmosis II who
had the obelisk set up in lower Egypt in 1547 B.C., in the city of Hierapolis. In brief,
the content of these hieroglyphics is as follows: on the eastern side, Tutmosis III,
of the XVIII Dynasty, master of Upper and Lower Egypt, on the thirtieth anniversary of his
reign, as conqueror of the seas and rivers, has set up this obelisk for countless
anniversaries to come. On the southern face, it reads; With the strength and
approval of the god Horus, Tutmosis. Tutmosis, the all-powerful and all-just
son of the Sun, ruler of Upper and Lower Egypt, has penetrated as far as Mesopotamia, at
the head of his armies, has shown his might on the Mediterranean, and has fought great
On the western face it is written, Tutmosis, son of the Sun, who bears the crowns
of Upper and Lower Egypt on his brow through the strength, might and wealth of
after paying tribute to the god Amon-ra built this work for his father, the god
that it may spread light like the rays of the sun to mankind. On the northern face,
it reads Tutmosis paid tribute to the god determined to enlarge the borders of his
country as far as Mesopotamia.
The Walled Obelisk: At the rear part of
Sultanahmet Square is the column set up by Constantine VII. The obelisk, of coarsely-hove
blocks is 32 m. in height, and formerly was reputedly decorated with bronze plaques
depicting the victories of Basil I, the grandfather of Constantine (867-886) and was
crowned with a sphere. Unfortunately, however, these bronze artifacts were said to have
been melted down by the Latins for use in the mint.
Constantine's Column: The column of
Cemberlitas, was situated in the old Forum of Constantine the Great. This column, which
is 57 m. in height, was brought from the Apollo Temple in Rome and set up here. It is
believed that originally a statue of Apollo greeting the dawn surmounted it, which was
replaced by Constantine the Great in 330 with a statue of himself.
The column was made of eight porphyry drums which were wreathed with laurel. The statue
of Constantine surmounting it was later replaced with a statue of Theodosius, which was
dislodged by lightening in 1081.
The column was restored by Alexius I Comnenus and an inscription engraved on the
capital with a gilded cross in place of the statue. Later, during the reign of Mustafa II
(1695-1704), after a severe fire damaged it, the sultan had a layer of stone added to the
base and iron hoops fixed around it, taking its present name from this feature, -the
hooped column- Cemberlitas.
Serpentine Column: This column, was brought to Istanbul by
Constantine the Great from the temple of Apollo at Delphi. It had been presented to the
temple of Apollo by the 31 Greek cities as a token of gratitude for their defeat of the
Persians in the battle of Platte, during the Medic wars.
A golden vase was set on top of the column, and the column was in the form of three
snakes inter wound, and was 8 m. in height including the three snake-heads which appear
towards the top of the column at a height of 6.5 m.
Records show us that these snake-heads were in place at the beginning of the 16th
century after which they were broken off. One of the heads is to be found in the Archaeological Museum, Istanbul.
Above text and pictures are from the book titled "Capital of Three Empires Istanbul".
You can purchase "Capital of Three Empires Istanbul" book and other Turkey related books from Explore Turkey Bookstore.