The Byzantine Hippodrome in Istanbul was built by Emperor Constantine in the 4th century. It was one of the first buildings placed in the heart of the city after it was declared that Constantinople would be the new capital of the Roman Empire.
The Hippodrome was adjacent to the Great Palace where the emperors lived. There was even a corridor from inside the palace through which the emperor could directly reach his lodge in the Hippodrome. In this imperial lodge, called Kathisma, there were the emperor and high-ranking bureaucrats.
For centuries, the Hippodrome of Constantinople served as a circus where tens of thousands of people gathered. The most famous chariot drivers of late antiquity competed here. The most famous of these is known as Porphyrius the Charioteer.
The famous Hippodrome of Constantinople was actually an analogue of the Circus Maximus in Rome. Since Istanbul was called “New Rome” in the 4th century, structures similar to those in Rome also adorned the new imperial capital in the East.
Byzantine Hippodrome in Istanbul Today
In the center of the hippodrome, there was a platform decorated with monuments called Spina, and riders would race on the track surrounding this central platform. Three ancient works adorning this platform can still be seen in the Byzantine Hippodrome in present-day Istanbul.
The first and most famous of these is the Egyptian Obelisk, brought from Ancient Egypt. The column erected in the middle of the Hippodrome at the end of the 4th century is also known as the Obelisk of Theodosius.
The second is the Serpent Column, brought from the Temple of Apollo, the most sacred temple of Ancient Greece. This bronze column is the victory monument of the Greek sites victorious in the Greco-Persian wars.
The third is the Walled Obelisk built by the Romans. It is believed to have been built in the 4th century and is the same age as the hippodrome. However, it was rebuilt during the reign of Emperor Constantine VII (Porphyrogenitus).
The Hippodrome is today known as Sultanahmet Square. Surrounded by magnificent buildings such as the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia, the square is also located in the center of Istanbul’s Old City.
The Hippodrome of Constantinople was an important place not only for its races but also for its role in political events. Some of the most notable incidents in Byzantine history, such as the Nika Revolt, began here.
The Byzantine Hippodrome is one of the most interesting historical buildings in Istanbul today. As a licensed tour guide organizing Byzantine history tours in Istanbul, I enjoy telling the story of this place.
If you are interested in the Roman and Byzantine history of Istanbul, you can book one of my private guided tours. If you would like to contact me for the Byzantine Istanbul tour, simply fill out the form on the contact page.
Although it is not widely known, a considerable Roman and Byzantine heritage still survives in today’s Istanbul. You can find a list of the most prominent of these structures on the home page of this site.
Written by Serhat Engul