Monday, May 19, 2014

Istanbul 2014 - Hippodrome of Constantinople @ Sultan Ahmet Square

Date of visit: 6th April 2014

The Egyptian Obelisk, Thutmosis III at Sultan Ahmet Square at present day
The first thing we asked the Yazar Hotel reception was our luggage. We were beyond words when they told us it did not arrive as yet. What would happen if we did not get it before our train left Istanbul to Bucharest? Are we supposed to shop for the whole attire? What happened to all our foods inside the luggage? All plans for that night were cancelled. I immediately made a call to Qatar Airlines “Lost & Found” after no satisfactory answer received from Ataturk Airport “Lost & Found”. We were a bit relieved when they  informed that everything was on its way, that we the next plane should landed at around 9pm. To cut the story short, only the next morning we found out that all luggage was at the reception as the boy did not wanted to bother us from our horrible sleep.

Malaysian ladies in skirt at Hippodrome

We were overly excited taking out our skirts to wear for the day thinking about beautiful poses in Tulips festival garden. So, therefore we continued the full itinerary and trying to catch-up what was missed today. Let us the places that we visited on our day 3.

Tram stop at Sultanahmet station with a view of Sultan Ahmet Square in the background

The first stop was taking a tram to Sultanahmet (3 stops from Sikeci) and get down to “Hippodrome of Constantinople”. Hippodrome used to be a circus that was the sporting and social centre of Constantinople, capital of the Byzantine Empire. It was also called Atmeydani @ Horse Square. Today it is a square named “Sultanahmet  Meydanı” or Sultan Ahmet Square. In the present develop Turkish city of Istanbul, only a few fragments of the original structure surviving.

The German Fountain

The word hippodrome comes from the Greek hippos mean horse, and dromos, a pathway. Horse racing and chariot racing were popular in those ancient world and hippodromes were common features of Greek cities in theHellenistic, Roman and Byzantine eras.

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 Istanbul city was called Byzantium, and was a provincial town of moderate importance. In AD 203, the Emperor Septimius Severus rebuilt the city and expanded its walls, endowing it with a hippodrome, an arena for chariot races and other entertainment.

The base of the Obelisk of Thutmosis III showing Emperor Theodosius as he offers a laurel wreath to the victor from the Kathismaat at the Hippodrome.

In AD 324, the Emperor Constantine the Great decided to move the seat of the government from Rome to Byzantium, which he renamed Nova Roma (New Rome). The city was changing its name after Empreror Constantine as Constantinople, the City of Constantine. 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 450m long x 130m wide. Its stands were capable of holding 100,000 spectators.

Walled obelisk built by Emperor Constantine in 10th Century

The Hippodrome Boxes, which had 4 statues of horses in gilded copper on top, stood at the northern end. These four gilded horses, now called the Horses of Saint Mark, whose exact Greek or Roman ancestry has never been determined, were looted during the Fourth Crusade in 1204 and installed on the façade of St Mark's Basilica in Venice. The hippodrome was once filled with statues of gods, emperors and heroes, among them some famous works, such as a Heracles by Lysippos, Romulus and Remus with their wolf and the Serpent Column of the Plataean tripod.

The rivalry and riots between the political or religious rivalries amounted to series of civil wars that broke out in the city between them. As a caused, many important buildings, such as the 2nd Hagia Sophia Church, were destroyed. The current Hagia Sophia was built by Justinian following the Nika Revolt. Constantinople never really recovered from its sack during the 4th Crusade and even though the Byzantine Empire survived until 1453, by that time, the Hippodrome had fallen into ruin. The Ottoman Turks, who captured the city in 1453 and made it the capital of the Ottoman Empire, were not interested in racing and the Hippodrome was gradually forgotten, although the site was never actually built over.

Remains of the Delphi Tripod, "Serpentine Column" in Hippodrome Square

The Hippodrome was used for various occasions such as the lavish and days-long circumcision ceremony of the sons of Sultan Ahmed III. In Ottoman miniature paintings, the Hippodrome is shown with the seats and monuments still intact. Although the structures do not exist anymore, today's Sultanahmet Square largely follows the ground plan and dimensions of the now vanished Hippodrome.

At last, a photo of me with Anne at the Tulips yard near the German Fountain
We wandered for a while admiring multi-colors Tulips at the square before entering the Blue Mosque from back yard entrance.

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