Sultanahmet Square was known as the Hippodrome of Constantinople during the Roman and Byzantine periods. Chariot races, the most important activity of the city, were held here. Historical ruins from those days can still be seen in the square.
Sultanahmet Square is one of the most popular historical places in Istanbul today. Around this square, there are historical monuments such as the Blue Mosque, Turkish and Islamic Arts Museum and Hagia Sophia.
Hippodrome of Constantinople
The Hippodrome of Constantinople was built in the 4th century by the famous Roman emperor Constantine the Great. The Hippodrome, which had been the entertainment center of the city for centuries, had a capacity of tens of thousands of people.
The Hippodrome witnessed very important events throughout Byzantine history. Many emperors ascended the throne as crowds here shouted their names. On the other hand, many rebellions that overthrew the emperors also started from here.
For example, the Nika Revolt, the most famous riot in Byzantine history, started from the Hippodrome. The rebellion, in which 40,000 people burned and destroyed Constantinople, ironically broke out during the reign of Emperor Justinian, who represented the peak of Byzantine Empire.
The Hippodrome, which was the scene of chariot races during the Byzantine period, became a public square during the Ottoman Empire. During this period, it was the place where celebrations were held on religious holidays and royal marriages.
Sultanahmet Square Today
Sultanahmet Square is one of the touristic centers of Istanbul today. On one side of the square is the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts, an old Ottoman palace, while on the other side there is the Blue Mosque.
In the lines below, you can find three important historical monuments to see in Sultanahmet Square. These columns adorned the center of the Hippodrome of Constantinople in the past.
1. Egyptian Obelisk
Among the things to see in Sultanahmet Square is the Egyptian Obelisk, known as the Theodosius Column. This column, which is the oldest historical artifact of Istanbul, was brought from the Karnak Temple in Egypt. The 3500-year-old column was dedicated to the Egyptian pharaoh Tuthmose III.
Beneath the Egyptian obelisk is a Roman marble pedestal. It is possible to see Emperor Theodosius and his sons Arcadius and Honorius on Roman reliefs. Theodosius was the last emperor of a united Rome. After his death, the empire was divided into east and west.
Although it was previously planned to move the obelisk to Istanbul, the co-capital of the Roman Empire, it was only possible in the 390s. For this reason, the column was named after emperor Theodosius I, who was the ruler of that period.
2. Serpent Column
One of the other important works of the square is the Serpent Column brought from the Temple of Apollo in Ancient Greece. This column was built to commemorate the Greco-Persian wars. The Greeks, who defeated the Persians after years of war, made this column from the shields of the defeated Persian army.
Serpent Column is 2500 years old and one of the oldest historical monuments in Istanbul. During the Ottoman period, the column was believed to be a talisman and was preserved for many years. However, the snake heads were lost in an earthquake in the late Ottoman period.
3. Walled Obelisk
The last artifact in the square is the Column of Constantine, known as the Walled Obelisk. It is not known exactly when this column was made. However, since there are records from the time of Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus, it is attributed to this emperor who lived in the 10th century.
The Hippodrome was badly damaged in the Fourth Crusade. This incident, known as the Sack of Constantinople in history, took place in 1204. The Latins stole the 4 horses statue that adorned the monumental gate of the Hippodrome and took it to St. Mark’s Cathedral in Venice.
The bronze plates that adorned the Walled Column were also stolen during this time. During the occupation, many other historical artifacts and even the relics of the saints were taken to Europe from the palaces and churches of Constantinople.
How to Get to Sultanahmet Square
Sultanahmet Square is one of the most central places in Istanbul. It will be the most practical way to use the Tram T1 line to reach here. After getting off at Sultanahmet Tram Station, you can reach the Hippodrome with only a 5-minute walk.
When you reach the Hippodrome by the tram station, you will see a historical fountain with a green dome. Known as the German Fountain, this work was gifted to the Ottoman Sultan by the German Emperor Wilhelm II before the First World War.
Meanwhile, Museum Pass Istanbul is sold at the Turkish and Islamic Arts Museum in Sultanahmet Square. In popular museums such as Topkapi Palace, you have to wait in line at the ticket offices to buy this product. However, since this museum is generally quiet, you can quickly get a museum card from here.
The Museum Pass gives you fast access to places like Topkapi Palace, Galata Tower and Istanbul Archeology Museum in Istanbul. In addition, the museum card provides a great discount when compared to museum entrance fees.
The Hippodrome of Constantinople was the entertainment center of the city for more than a thousand years. Legendary drivers of ancient races such as Porphyrius the Charioteer grew up from the hippodrome.
Many tourists visiting Istanbul today are not even aware of the existence of the Hippodrome. However, in this place known as Sultanahmet Square today, there are the oldest monuments of Istanbul. That’s why there are so many stories to tell here.
The Hippodrome has a very important place in my history tours. Because this is a very suitable place to give information about the history of Istanbul. The Hippodrome is also one of the only places left from the Roman period in Istanbul.
In order to take your knowledge of the Hippodrome to the next level, you can visit the Byzantine cistern below the Nakkas Carpet Store. The small cistern discovered during the construction of this shop on Nakilbent Street is now a museum.
The historical place, also known as Nakilbent Cistern, is thought to be 1500 years old. In this cistern, boards containing historical information about the Hippodrome races and animation pictures can be seen.
You can also check out our article on the best places to visit in Istanbul to discover other hidden gems of Istanbul. In this article, there are stories of 10 of the tourist attractions in Istanbul.
Written by Serhat Engul