One of the largest objects of ancient Constantinople and the real center of its socio-political life was the city's sports and entertainment center in the form of the Hippodrome. It was a vivid testimony to the ancient way of life and consisted of a looped circuit for horse races and grandstands for spectators. The center of the Hippodrome - the dividing barrier in the form of a straight alley - was decorated with symbolic sculptures, solemn columns and steles, some of which were brought here from other centers of ancient civilization.
- History of the Hippodrome of Constantinople
- Hippodrome Attractions
Only the central dividing avenue has survived, the rest was gradually absorbed by new buildings of the Ottoman period, but one can still imagine the strength, power and size of the ancient Constantinople hippodrome.
This is what the Hippodrome of Constantinople in the 4th century looked like
History of the Hippodrome of Constantinople
The central part of the former Byzantine Hippodrome is now a branch of the main historical center, Sultanahmet Square, in the form of At Meydana Street. It is interesting that the construction of the Hippodrome was started at the beginning of the 3rd century by the Byzantine Emperor Septimius Severus, who conquered the city. In the 30s of the 4th century by Constantine the First (the founder of Constantinople) the territory of the Septimius Hippodrome was rebuilt and expanded to almost 5.5 hectares, providing almost 100 thousand seats. The entrance to this open-air entertainment center was from the north, somewhere in the area of the present German Fountain.
Bread and spectacle were the main priorities of the Roman Empire, and this tradition continued to develop in the Eastern Roman Empire and then in the Byzantine Empire. Although the spectacles themselves changed considerably over time and with the acceptance of Christianity (gladiatorial fights were replaced by circuses and hippodromes), the passions during competitions remained as strong and irreconcilable. Often fans would get into fights, which could turn into riots.Horse chariot rides were the most popular entertainment of Constantinople
The supporters of certain chariots usually belonged to a group of similar supporters, and all groups were divided according to the colors showing affiliation with a particular party. The largest groups were the followers of blue (Venets) and green (Prasins), although there were also representatives of red and white parties. These colors symbolized the main elements - water, earth, fire, and air.
These party groups not only cheered on their chariots, but also maintained them. In addition, they were all quite a significant political force, and emperors often supported one of them. For example, the famous Justinian and his wife Theodora favored the Venetian party, which included large landowners and the senatorial aristocracy. Merchants and industrialists at that time constituted the party leadership of the Prasins. A significant factor in the division of the parties at that time was also religious differences, for Christianity was still gaining momentum, and there was no unity among them.O. Panvino's engraving preserved for us a view of the Hippodrome on the eve of the fall of Constantinople
Often the Hippodromes became not only a sports arena, but also an arena of political battles. For example, the largest urban revolt of the early Middle Ages against the government, which took place in Constantinople during the reign of Justinian, was directly related to the Hippodrome and the fan parties. And the case was this..
In January 532, during another equestrian competition, representatives of the Prasinians addressed the emperor present at the Hippodrome to punish the officials who were abusing their position. The altercation was quite serious and resulted in the arrest of the outraged. Three of them were sentenced to be hanged. It should be noted that among them were representatives of both the Prasins and the Venetians.
While the sentence was being carried out, two of the condemned fell off the gallows. According to custom, they were sheltered in the temple until pardon could be granted. The next day, again at the Hippodrome, during the equestrian contest, the representatives of both parties appealed to Justinian for a pardon for the condemned. But no answer was received, which provoked a riot under the slogan "Nika!", i.e., Victory.
Conflict with the emperor resulted in the loudest rebellion in Constantinople
Representatives of all parties, dissatisfied with tax levies, the arbitrariness of officials, and other social and religious injustices, took part in the revolt, which turned into street fighting. The rebels freed prisoners from prisons and burned noblemen's houses, temples, and other buildings. The rebels initially demanded the resignation of only undesirable ministers, but in the course of the rebellion it came to the overthrow of the emperor himself, the new emperor was declared Hypatius. Constantinople was awash in blood. An assault on the Great Imperial Palace was being prepared. The empire was on the brink of ruin. Emperor Justinian seriously thought about escape.
A turning point in the opposition forces was achieved thanks to some outstanding commanders of the government forces, notably Narses, an Armenian of Armenian descent, who was able to convince many senators to remain loyal to Justinian. The final suppression of the rebellion occurred on the day of Hypatius' supposed coronation (January 18), which was also to take place at the Hippodrome.
Emperor Justinian managed to suppress the rebellion, but the price of this victory was very high
The imperial troops organized a surprise attack on the rioters gathered at the Hippodrome and arrested Hypatius and his brother Pompeius, as well as other high-ranking conspirators. A brutal massacre of the rebels began, resulting in the murder of between 30,000 and 35,000 people. Hypatius and his brother were executed, and their corpses were kept for some time in public view for fear. The power of Justinian after the suppression of the rebellion was unlimited.
As a result of Revolt "Nika" Constantinople has essentially suffered, the Basilica of Sacred Sofia has been destroyed, the Temple of Sacred Irina and other structures has strongly suffered. Justinian rather operatively began to restore a city and to revive the lost temples. So the new St. Sophia Cathedral appeared, which for many years became the main temple of the empire and the largest cathedral in the world.
The new St. Sophia Church became for many years the largest and most beautiful church in the world
After the conquest of Constantinople by the Ottomans, the former Hippodrome was initially used for entertainment events, fairs, etc. But gradually this area began to diminish due to the emergence of new buildings - Topkapi Palace, Ibrahim Pasha Palace, the Blue Mosque (Sultanahmet), etc.
By the 19th century, the Hippodrome area had been swallowed up by new Muslim buildings
Today it is just a small street, starting from the junction of Ayia-Sofia and SultanAhmet Squares and ending with the Obelisk of Constantine. There are always many independent tourists and sightseeing groups who explore the sights of the former Hippodrome, which refers to different historical periods.
On the southwest side of the Hippodrome there is a part of the outer wall of the mighty structure of antiquity
Curious tourists can see the remains of the Hippodrome sfenda in the form of archaeological preserved object in the palace of Ibrahim Pasha, as well as part of the outer wall on the southwestern side of the former Hippodrome.
The Hippodrome was once a rather large rectangular area, extending 400 meters in length and surrounded by a semicircular tripartite Sfende in the form of an amphitheater of spectators. Marble benches for spectators were arranged with the elevation of each successive row, the last of which ended with a podium in the form of a portico with a roof mounted on eight-meter columns with capitals. In the heat and rain there was a shelter in the form of a cloth tent over the grandstands.The Hippodrome was once a rather large rectangular area, extending 400 meters in length and surrounded by a semicircular tripartite Sfende in the form of an amphitheater of spectators. Marble benches for spectators were arranged with the elevation of each successive row, the last of which ended with a podium in the form of a portico with a roof mounted on eight-meter columns with capitals. In the heat and rain there was a shelter in the form of a cloth tent over the grandstands.Fragments of the main grandstands of the Hippodrome are depicted on the pedestal of the Egyptian obelisk
The Kafisma, a large central box with seats for the high nobility and the imperial family, was the fourth side of the Hippodrome grounds. Today in its place is the famous Blue Mosque. From the Kafisma there was a covered passage to the Great Imperial Palace, and directly below the imperial balcony there was an area for musicians, under which there were exit gates for chariots. One of the main decorations of the central entrance to the Hippodrome territory was the monumental construction of the Quadriga.
St. Mark's Quadriga
The bronze antique quadriga (multifigure equestrian sculpture) became the sculptural symbol of the Hippodrome structure created for horse racing. The author of the Constantinople quadriga is considered to be Lysippus (brother of Lysistratus), one of the greatest sculptors of the Late Classic period of the 4th century B.C.
The famous Lysippus Quadriga decorated the Hippodrome of Constantinople for several centuries
This sculpture, brought to Constantinople, for a long time adorned the stadium where the popular and very gambling chariot races were held. At the beginning of the 13th century, when the Crusaders conquered Constantinople and Catholicism was established there for a time, the horses of the quadriga were taken to Venice, with their heads cut off before they were shipped. Upon their arrival in Venice, where the equestrian figures later adorned the loggia of St. Mark's Basilica (San Marco), the horses' heads were joined to their bodies, and the resulting "seams" were covered with collars.
Today a copy of the Lysippus Quadrica adorns St. Mark's Basilica
This unique quadriga is to this day the symbol of Venice, but it is now in a museum, and on the cathedral's loggia it has been replaced by an exact copy. It is interesting that during the reign of Napoleon this ancient sculpture was transported to Paris, but then it was returned to the temple of St. Mark. In addition to the Quadriga, which is in Venice, some obelisks of the division strip remain on the site of the former Hippodrome. These are the Obelisks of Theodosius and Constantine, as well as the partially preserved Serpent Column.
Egyptian Obelisk (Obelisk of Theodosius)
This unique landmark of the former Hippodrome, which decorated its dividing strip since 390 (the reign of Theodosius the Great), is called the Egyptian Obelisk because it was really brought from Egypt, and chronologically the creation of this stone stele refers to the middle of the 15th century BC!!! At that time this obelisk was established in the Great Temple of Atum-Ra-Amon in honor of pharaoh Thutmose the Third in ancient Thebes. Thus, being in Istanbul, you can get acquainted with a unique witness to the legendary ancient Egyptian civilization.
The Egyptian Obelisk is one of the main attractions of the Hippodrome
Made of Aswan pink granite, this nearly 20-meter tetrahedral obelisk begins with a square and ends with a pyramidal peak. The obelisk is decorated with Egyptian hieroglyphic inscriptions, Egyptian symbols and an image of Pharaoh Thutmose holding hands with the God Amon-Ra. All these images and inscriptions are dedicated to Thutmose's victorious march into Mesopotamia.
Constantine the Great himself dreamed to bring this rare monument to Constantinople, but his dream was realized by his son, Constantius. However, at that time the Obelisk could only be brought to Alexandria, where it was left on the coast, and only some time later under Theodosius did the monument reach Constantinople.
This monument decorated the Hippodrome under Emperor Theodosius
But during the long delivery and transportation, first on the barge, then on the ship, the granite component of the Egyptian monument cracked, and the monument fell apart into two parts. That's the upper 20-meter part of it and raised with a special device on a pre-built marble pedestal, in one of the facades which was cut into a water pipe, because this structure for some time served as a fountain. The establishment of the Egyptian Obelisk is forever associated with the names of the Emperor Theodosius and Proclus, who was the prefect of the praetorium and carried out the basic organizational work of raising the obelisk. Their names are immortalized on the pedestal of the monument.
On the same pedestal can be seen the most striking scenes from the life of the Hippodrome. For example, the main facade contains a bas-relief with a scene of the awarding of the winners of the race by Emperor Theodosius. Here you can see images of members of the imperial family and the closest dignitaries, guards and officials, spectators, dancers and musicians entertaining those present between the horse races. There are here the very first depictions of brass organs in history.The image of Emperor Theodosius surrounded by his entourage is preserved in the bas-relief of the pedestal
On the other sides of the pedestal one can also take a long time to examine the images which have preserved to our time typical fragments of the life of the Hippodrome of Constantinople - the emperor and his court, a fragment of the chariot race, a scene of subjugation of the barbarians, etc. Just as long we can study the beautiful, fascinating Egyptian hieroglyphs and drawings, transporting us to another era and another geographical dimension.
The mysterious messages of ancient Egypt have reached us through centuries and distances
The Egyptian Obelisk is thus a unique synthesis of two great eras of human history, reunited in Orthodox Constantinople and today a unique monument in Muslim Istanbul. Having survived centuries of social, religious, and political storms, this monument reminds us of a distant past that may not be so distant.
The area of the former Hippodrome separation zone is adorned with another amazing obelisk bearing the name of Constantine. This obelisk, unlike the Egyptian one, is not monolithic. It was built from numerous blocks of stone, connected with cementing mortar. The pedestal of the obelisk is the base of some earlier construction, possibly dating back to the pagan times of Byzantium.
Externally, the Obelisk of Constantine is not as exotic as the Egyptian
It is believed that this stone stele was erected by Constantine the Great. In any case, it is known for sure that in the 10th century this monument was restored by Emperor Constantine Porphyrogenitus (the Seventh).
If only we knew on the foundations of what ancient structure this obelisk stands
During the restoration of the Obelisk of Constantine in the first half of the 10th century, it was covered with gilded bronze plates depicting the military victories of the founder of the Macedonian dynasty Basil Macedonian (9th century). The top of the obelisk was adorned with an orb or a female sculpture. This restored structure was considered one of the wonders of the world, as evidenced by the inscription carved on the pedestal after the reconstruction. It was the most impressive urban object in those days, as the sun, both at sunrise and sunset, reflected in the gilded sheets, sent its rays of light in all directions.
In the historical reconstruction, the obelisk of Constantine is on the right
In the early 13th century, when the city was sacked by the invading Crusaders, the copper plates were stripped and melted down into coins. Since then, the obelisk has been in a rather neglected state. The capture of Constantinople by the Turks also had a negative impact on it. The Janissaries used the obelisk as a rock climbing wall for fun and dexterity, climbing to the top.
In the '50s and '70s of the 20th century, the image of Constantine's Obelisk adorned the 500-yard Turkish banknote.
At one time the image of the Obelisk of Constantine was on the Turkish banknote
Between the Egyptian and Constantinian obelisks we can see part of another monument that decorated the division zone of the Hippodrome of Constantinople. This so-called Serpent's Column appeared here in the 4th century.
Today what is left of the Snake Column does not look very presentable
This column, which once ended with three snake heads, was created in the 5th century BC by the ancient Greeks in honor of their victory over the Persians at the Battle of Plataea and was installed in Delphi - in the sanctuary of Apollo. The purpose of this bronze column, cast from the trophy weapons of the ancient Persians, was to be the lower part of a sacrificial tripod. It was moved to Constantinople and erected on the Hippodrome under Constantine the Great and became a symbol of the purification of the city from poisonous snakes and scorpions. Like the Egyptian obelisk, this column was adapted as a fountain, as evidenced by the nearly 30 holes in the bronze snake bodies.This is roughly what Snake Column looked like, according to the reconstruction
The snake heads were lost some time after the transformation of Constantinople into Istanbul, tentatively in the 18th century. There are several versions of their destruction, but which is the correct one is not known. Perhaps they were destroyed by local vandals, perhaps by one of the sultans. One way or another, but today the column stands in a decapitated form, and the upper part of one of the snake heads can be seen in the Archaeological Museum.
A fragment of one of the snake heads is in the Archaeological Museum
Today's tourists can only see the entwined serpent decapitated bodies on which the names of all the allied Greek cities were carved. These inscriptions have nowadays been practically erased.
The German fountain in the form of a stone pavilion, located at the beginning of the former Hippodrome of Constantinople, has nothing to do with Constantinople. But since it is located at the place where the entrance to the Hippodrome supposedly was, it is necessary to say a few words about it as well.The area of the Hippodrome once began in the area of the present German Fountain
This architectural structure in neo-Byzantine style appeared here at the turn of the 19th and early 20th centuries and was a gift of the German Kaiser Wilhelm II to mark his second visit to Istanbul and to cement the alliance between Germany and Turkey (1898).
This architectural construction, created in Germany by the German architects M. Spitt and Schöle, was taken disassembled to Istanbul and assembled there, where it is located today. The opening of the fountain took place at the very beginning of the reign of Abdul-Hamid II, the last Ottoman sultan. Therefore, under the roof of the pavilion, based on eight porphyry columns, there are gold mosaics in the form of the monograms of William the Second and Abdul-Hamid the Second.
Among the mosaic gold of the fountain ceiling are the monograms of the crowned rulers
In addition to the above architectural and historical monuments, on the territory of the former Hippodrome you can visit the Sultanahmet Mosque (Blue) and the Mausoleum of Sultan Ahmed the First, which is part of its complex. These structures are located on the left side of At Meydana Street.
On the right side of the street is very interesting to visit the former Palace of Ibrahim Pasha, which today houses an exhibition of the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Art. In this palace you can see a small fragment of the preserved excavations of the Hippodrome.
Under the layers of earth of the Palace of Ibrahim Pasha the remains of the Hippodrome were discovered
There are other famous sights nearby the Hippodrome. For example, the Hagia Sophia Cathedral, behind which is the Topkapi Palace. There is also nearby the Museum of Mosaics with unique exhibits of Byzantine mosaics of the 6th century, which used to decorate the Imperial Grand Palace of Constantinople.
How many more mysteries lurk in the land of the Hippodrome of Constantinople!!!
The territory of the former Hippodrome was located in the heart of glorious Constantinople, so a walk around it is a journey deep into history and a contact with a very distant legendary antiquity.