The Hippodrome – Istanbul
Construction of the Hippodrome began in 203 AD by the Emperor Septimus Severus and it was then enlarged by Constantine the Great. It was completed in 335 AD when Constantine declared Istanbul the new Roman city capital. The Hippodrome served as a racetrack for chariot racing and is believed to have had a capacity of 100,000 people. Standing in the inner Hippodrome are the Egyptian Obelisk and other famous columns.
After the Nika riots in 532, the chariot races lost their importance and in 1204, during the fourth crusade, the Hippodrome was greatly damaged. In 1453, after the conquest of the city by the Ottoman Turks, the area was turned into a marketplace for horse trading. For that reason, the area is named At Meydani (horse square) today.
Three important monuments in the area to be viewed are:
The Serpentine’s Column -
Originally erected in the Temple of Delphi in Greece, but brought to Istanbul. Previously there were three bronze snake heads projecting from the column, but these have since been lost. One can be seen in the archaeological museum. Legend has it that the snake heads protect the city from snakes.
Handmade Column of Constantine -
There is evidence to suggest that this was built earlier than the 10th century. Until 1204, it was covered by bronze and silver, with a sphere at the top reflecting sunlight. When the Crusaders came to the area, they pulled off the bronze and silver and used them for minting money.
The Egyptian Obelisk -
Built in the 16th century BC by the Pharaoh Tutmosis III in Egypt, the obelisk was intended for Karnak Temple. It was brought to Istanbul by boat in the 4th century AD.
Constantine I wanted to replicate Circus Maximus in Rome so you can imagine how grand the Hippodrome must have been during its days with statues erected around the track and chariot races within. Today, none of these statues exist. Nearby, across the road we see lots of wooden stalls set up in preparation for the Ramadan markets.