Sultanahmet Square

Sultanahmet Square

The place where Sultanahmet Square is located was a hippodrome during the Byzantine period. The word hippodrome derives from the Greek words hippo (horse) and dromos (race track). This hippodrome, one of the oldest Byzantine buildings in Istanbul, was a place where horse-drawn chariot races were organized, acrobatics and dance shows, animal fights and jousts between knights were held.

In the middle of this historic hippodrome, where the emperors spread their money, where the people saw their emperors only at these events, and which was the subject of entertainment, there was an area called Spina, which divided the hippodrome into two. Each chariot would pull two-wheeled chariots, each consisting of 4 horsemen, and after 7 laps around the Spina, the winner would be determined. The columns we see today in Sultanahmet Square are the columns from the Spina. The columns are one of the rare artifacts from the period when the hippodrome existed.

Bizans Hipodromu Konstantin Istanbul
Antoine Helbert's depiction of the hippodrome. The painting depicts the moment of the race. The columned structure on the right is where the Emperor came from the Grand Palace to watch the race. In the center where the horsemen turn around is an area called Spina, where the columns are located. Not only columns, but also statues of famous racers and some animals.

The columns we see in the square today were witness to such exciting races centuries ago. Here is information about the columns in today’s Sultanahmet Square.

Obelisk

The Obelisk, the first of the trio of monuments, is among the columns brought from Egypt. It was built for the Egyptian Pharaoh Tutmosis III in the 1450s BC and brought here in 390, but with great difficulty. When it was brought to Constantinople, it could not even be erected due to lack of technology. Later emperors erected the monument. It is also popularly known as the Obelisk, Theodosius Obelisk. There are hieroglyphs on all four sides of the obelisk. Since they either broke the monument while moving it or wanted to lighten the load, the hieroglyphics on the lower side of the obelisk start from half and it is said that the column you see here is two-thirds of the original column.

Istanbul Sultanahmet Obelisk Sutunu
Photograph of the Egyptian column with the Serpent Column in Sultanahmet Square.
Istanbul Sultanahmet Obelisk Sutunu Kaidesi
Half hieroglyphs, proof that the column was cut and erected.

Burmese Column

One of the columns in the center of the square is called the Serpent Column or Burmese Column. The purpose of having the column here is to protect the city from pests. The column was brought from the ancient city of Delphi in Greece, which was built to worship Apollo and Athena in ancient times. If you pay attention to the pillar, you will see intertwined knuckles. These depict three python snakes. The column originally had 3 snake heads and they broke off. One of the snake head fragments was found by Fossat, who repaired Hagia Sophia, and is now on display at the Istanbul Archaeological Museum.

Istanbul Sultanahmet Meydani Yilanli Sutun

Knitted Column

The column at the southwest point of Sultanahmet Square is one of the artifacts from the Byzantine period. It is not known who actually built it, but according to the inscriptions on it, it was repaired by Constantine. Since he commissioned the repair, this 32-meter-high column is also called the Column of Constantine. There used to be bronze plates on the column, but these bronze plates were looted during the Crusades in Constantinople.

Istanbul Sultanahmet Meydani Orme Sutun
Istanbul Sultanahmet Meydani Orme Sutun Kaidesi

In 1453, after Mehmet the Conqueror conquered Istanbul, the hippodrome became known as the horse square. As a result of the construction activities that followed, the stones and marbles of the hippodrome were used in the construction of the surrounding buildings. This large area, which was used for horse races, started to be used as an area where palace festivals, sports shows and palace weddings were held during the Ottoman period.

After the conquest, the rubble from the buildings built in and around the hippodrome was filled into the hippodrome. In 1555, the Haseki Hürrem Bath, in 1609 the Blue Mosque, in the 16th century the Ibrahim Pasha Palace, where the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts is located today, and other palaces were built and the borders of the hippodrome and the ground began to disappear. In the hollows of the columns you can see that the square is 4-5 meters higher than the floor of the hippodrome.

Sultanahmet Square is always very crowded as it is the most popular square in Istanbul. If you think it will be deserted on weekdays, you will be surprised when you go. Of course, with the local and foreign tourists, hotels and pensions in the neighborhood, the old look is gone. If you are looking for a secluded time, you should prefer Sultanahmet Square in winter. Among the places to visit in Sultanahmet Square, or rather among the historical places visited by tourists are Topkapi Palace, Hagia Sophia Museum, Blue Mosque, Grand Palace Mosaics Museum, Basilica Cistern and the Museum of Turkish Islamic Art.