The Hippodrome of Constantinople

Points covered: 


  • History of the Hippodrome of Constantinople 
  • What was the Hippodrome of Constantinople used for?
  • Landmarks of the Hippodrome of Constantinople. 
  • Best Time to Visit the Hippodrome of Constantinople 
  • Travel Tips 



The Hippodrome of Constantinople is presently one of the most popular tourist attractions in Turkey today. Although some of its structures have been destroyed and have gone missing over time, there are still a lot of amazing things to see and explore. A lot of interesting materials have been excavated by archeologists over time, and these materials can still be seen in Istanbul’s museums. 


History of the Hippodrome


The arena was built by the emperor initially in AD 203 by Emperor Septimius Severus who used it for chariot races, horse races, public festivals, and also public execution of the emperor’s enemies. In AD 324, Emperor Constantine decided to move the capital of Rome to Byzantium. To do this, he had to carry out major renovations in Byzantium and one of these major renovations was carried out on the Hippodrome. The hippodrome was upgraded so that its newfound beauty would suit the status of the city. After the renovation, the Hippodrome of Constantinople was estimated to be about 450m long and 130m wide. Its stand was also said to be able to hold 100,000 spectators, all at one time.

The Hippodrome of Constantinople was the center of the city's social life; it was used for various occasions such as the lavish circumcision ceremony of the sons of Sultan Ahmed III. It can also be observed from the miniature paintings & figurines of the Hippodrome of Constantinople that the arena was once a magnificent and very beautiful place. Although the structures do not exist anymore in the square, the present Sultanahmet square largely follows the ground plan and dimensions of the once-great Hippodrome. 

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The Hippodrome of Constantinople


What was the Hippodrome of Constantinople used for?


Although a lot of activities took place in the Hippodrome of Constantinople, the major activities that took place in the arena were horse and chariot races. These races which were usually completed on the tracks of the Hippodrome of Constantinople usually involved eight chariots powered by four horses each. These racers were divided into four different teams each of which tried to secure the win for its rider during the race, the teams were The Blues (Veneto), The red (Rousioi), The Whites (Leukoi), and The Greens (Prasiniol). These teams were not just the mighty champions of the Hippodrome; they gradually grew in power until they became a sort of political party that dabbled in the affairs of the rich & poor of the empire equally. The red and the Whites gradually weakened in strength and as time went on, they were absorbed by The Blues and The Green. Emperor Justinian I of Constantinople was a Blue. 

Also, the arena served some other functions other than hosting the sports activities that it was primarily built for. It served as a medium through which the emperor met with the people, engaged with them & tapped into the heartbeat of the public. During races, people would often shout out their political demands to the Emperor who was always present at such races. The king also flaunted his wealth and riches during these races, occasionally giving out money and gifts to people during these gatherings.


The Hippodrome of Constantinople


Landmarks of the Hippodrome of Constantinople. 


To further elevate the popularity and status of the new capital, Constantinople brought artworks from places all over the world and beautified the Hippodrome of Constantinople with them. As new emperors came into power, more and more rare and unique structures were added to the already existing ones as each emperor wanted to cement his name & public image by adding another element of magnificence to the Hippodrome of Constantinople. Some of these additions include The Walled Obelisk, The Status of Porphyrios, The Obelisk of Thutmose III, and The Serpent Column. Here are some fun & interesting facts about them:


The Obelisk of Thutmose III

Emperor Theodosius the Great erected an obelisk which is one of the most notable structures of the Hippodrome of Constantinople to this very day. The obelisk was brought in by the emperor from Egypt and it was erected on the racing track. the top section of the obelisk still survives and can be found where it was initially erected by the emperor Theodosius. The Obelisk has survived more than 3000 years and it is still in astonishingly good condition.



The Hippodrome of Constantinople


The Status of Porphyrios 

The status of Porphyrios was erected on the spine of the Hippodrome of Constantinople in Honor of Porphyrios who was a legendary Charioteer who raced for both the Green and the Blue teams during his lifetime. Of all the seven statues, only the bases of two survived and these two stumps can still be found, displayed in the Istanbul archaeological museum.

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The Hippodrome of Constantinople


The Serpent Column

Initially called the Tripod of Plataea, the Serpent of Column was erected to celebrate the defeat of the Persians by the Greeks during the Persian Wars of the 5th century. Constantine then ordered that the Tripod be moved from the temple of Apollo at Delphi to the middle of the Hippodrome of Constantinople. The tripod was made up of a golden bowl supported by three serpent heads. The serpent head and the bowl were destroyed in 1700 and just the tripod column was the only part that survived & is currently on display.


The Hippodrome of Constantinople


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Best Time to Visit the Hippodrome of Constantinople 

If you are planning to visit the wonderful Hippodrome of Constantinople, then it would be best for you to visit around March to May and between September and November. At these times, the city will be less crowded and the room rates will be relatively low. Also, the weather is Extremely pleasing, giving you the opportunity to enjoy your trip to the fullest.



Travel Tips 

As you visit the Hippodrome of Constantinople, take your camera with you as there are some wonderful spots for you to take very good pictures. Also, Be careful not to cause any damage to any structure and artifacts you find at the site, and ensure you follow the instruction given to you by your travel guides. 


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