Ladies and gentlemen, distinguished guests, and fellow history enthusiasts, welcome to Sultanahmet Square, a captivating open space that houses the remnants of one of the grandest sporting and social arenas of antiquity – the Hippodrome of Constantinople.
As we stand on this ground, we’re transported back through the annals of time to the heart of the Byzantine Empire, where the resounding cheers of chariot races once echoed, and the very fabric of society unfolded within these hallowed grounds. Today, we embark on a journey to uncover the stories and marvels of the Hippodrome, a place steeped in history, triumphs, and the passage of ages.
The Emperor watched all the activities from Kathisma, where he could easily see the referee (there was a tunnel underneath that would allow him to escape easily when necessary). It is a very smart solution for the emperor, considering that the tension of the gathered crowd could rise and cause an outbreak of violence. As a matter of fact, in one such incident, the Nika Revolt in 532, it turned into a bloodbath. This was also the place where executions were held in public. As historian Anna Komnena from the Byzantine royal family explains in her book “Alexiad”, Basil, the leader of the Bogomil sect, was burned in the square in 1116.
Sultanahmet Square is not just an open space; it’s a living tableau, an archaeological treasure trove that connects us with the people and events that shaped the destiny of Constantinople and, by extension, the course of history.
- Obelisk of Theodosius (Egyptian Obelisk):
- Description: Originally from the Temple of Karnak in Luxor, Egypt, this ancient obelisk was brought to Constantinople by Emperor Theodosius in 390 AD.
- Significance: It stands as one of the oldest monuments in Istanbul, symbolizing the reach of empires across continents.
- Serpentine Column:
- Description: Also known as the Serpent Column or Delphi Tripod, it is a bronze column with three intertwined serpent heads, originally part of the Temple of Apollo at Delphi.
- Significance: Commemorates the Greek victory over the Persians at the Battle of Plataea. It’s one of the few remaining ancient tripod columns.
- Constantine Obelisk (Walled Obelisk):
- Description: A marble obelisk erected by Emperor Constantine VII in the 10th century, adorned with reliefs depicting the emperor’s victories.
- Significance: Represents Byzantine artistic and engineering prowess and serves as a testament to the continuity of imperial glory.
- German Fountain (Kaiser Wilhelm II Fountain):
- Description: A neo-Byzantine style fountain gifted by German Emperor Wilhelm II to Sultan Abdul Hamid II in the late 19th century.
- Significance: Symbolizes diplomatic relations between Germany and the Ottoman Empire at the time.
- The Kathisma and Royal Box:
- Description: Platforms for the emperor and VIPs to watch chariot races from an elevated position, ensuring a clear view of the events.
- Significance: Played a crucial role in the organization of chariot races and other public events, providing a space for imperial presence and control.