Hippodrome – Sultanahmet Square
Famous for holding chariot races, plays and wild animal fights, the Byzantine Hippodrome was ordered to be built by Septimius Severus in 203 A.D., and was completed during the reign of Constantine the Great in 337. With a seating capacity of 30.000, the hippodrome was modeled after Circus Maximus in Rome. Holding different types of events, the hippodrome also played an important role during the several riots the city endured. The famous Nika Riot started at the hippodrome, and in the end 30.000 rioters were cornered and slayed here by the authorities.
The Spina, which stood in the middle of the hippodrome, served as a reference point for chariots to circle around, and it consisted of several different monuments gathered from different regions. Today only three of these monuments are still standing: Obelisk of Theodosius, Serpent Column and Walled Obelisk. The Obelisk of Theodosius from the Temple of Karnak in Egypt was placed on a mount depicting Theodosius watching the races.
The Serpent Column, depicting the Greek victory over Persians, were decorated with three intertwined snakes. Only one of the snake heads have survived to this day and it can be seen in the İstanbul Archeology Museum. The names of the 31 Greek city-states that partook in the war are also engraved on the column.
Originally dating back to late 4th century, the Walled Obelisk’s bronze pinecone headpiece fell and got destroyed in 869. In the 10th century the obelisk’s surface was covered with gold bronze plates with the order of Constantine VII; an inscription about this can be found on the mount of the obelisk.
During the Ottoman period the hippodrome was used as a sports and festival arena. Sultan’s sons’ circumcision feasts were held here. Once again, the hippodrome plays an important role in riots within the city. One of the most important of these riots is the March 31st Riots (Vaka-I Vakvakiye).
Author Halide Edip made her famous speech addressing the citizens of İstanbul during the occupancy after WWI in the hippodrome.
Once part of many exciting events and incidents, today the hippodrome is a quaint spot for history enthusiasts.
To get to the hippodrome, you only need to make your way to Sultanahmet Square.
Take care of yourselves,
Tracer of Istanbul