Hippodrome of Constantinople

Hippodrome of Constantinople was a circus and an arena for chariot racing during the Byzantine Empire. It was constructed in 203 AD, during the reign of the emperor Septimius Severus. The stadium was approximately 130 meters wide and 450 meters long. It is believed that is could accommodate up to 50,000 spectators. In addition to being a sporting center, the structure was an important social and political gathering place. Today, the once magnificent stadium is a plaza named Sultanahmet Meydanı (Sultan Ahmet Square). Originally, the oval arena was surrounded by two gallery levels for viewing the field level. The interior of the track (called the spina) was lavishly decorated with columns and obelisks including the Obelisk of Theodosius, the Obelisk of Constantine Porphyrogenitus and the Serpents Column. The remnants of of these objects remain in the plaza today.


At the center of the plaza stands what remains of the Serpents Column (also Delphi Tripod). Originally topped by three serpent heads, it was cast to commemorate Hellenic victory over the Persians in the Battle of Plataea. Erected at Temple of Apollo at Delphi in 478 BC, Constantine the Great brought the column to Constantinople around 330 AD. The Obelisk of Constantine Porphyrogenitus (also called the Bronze Obelisk) is located to the south of the Serpents Column at very center of what was once the arena. It is believed that this is the oldest of the three remaining monuments and may have been part of the original hippodrome construction in 203 AD. It was once decorated with plates of gilded bronze and topped with a gilded globe. To the north of the Serpents Column stands the Obelisk of Theodosius (also called the Thebean or Egyptian Obelisk). Carved in Egypt during the reign of Thutmose III (reign 1549–1503 BC), it was originally erected at the Amon-Re temple at Karnak. Theodosius the Great (reign 379–95 AD) brought the obelisk from Egypt to Constantinople in 390 AD. The German Fountain is located at the northern end of Sultan Ahmet Square. Following German Emperor Kaiser Wilhem’s state visit to Sultan Abdül Hamit II in 1898, the fountain was presented to the sultan as a token of friendship.

The Hippodrome was at the center of social and political more than for 1,400 years and was the backdrop to many political dramas. As the expense of festivals and spectacles at the hippodrome increased, the political factions began to take responsibility for the entertainment which included chariot races, wild beast fights and pantomimes. The chariots teams for these factions were represented by color. Support for a team was like membership in a political party. In AD 532, The Blue and Green factions joined forces to protest Justinian’s high tax regime. This escalated into the Nika Revolt. Lasting over a week, the Nika riots were the most violent in the city’s history. Nearly half Constantinople was burned or destroyed and tens of thousands of people were killed. After sacking Hagia Sophia during the Fourth Crusade (1204 AD), soldiers looted the hippodrome. Believing them to be gold, the Crusaders removed all the plates from the Obelisk of Constantine Porphyrogenitus. In addition, they stole the famous Triumphal Quadriga (team of four horses cast in bronze) and placed it above the main entrance to Venice’s Basilica di San Marco. Although the gallery levels were damaged during looting and eventually dismantled during the Ottoman Empire, many columns were used for the construction of the Süleymaniye Mosque.




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