The Hippodrome of Constantinople: Entertainment at Its Finest

In the old city of Istanbul lies one of the glories of the ancient world, the Hippodrome of Constantinople. This was a center of entertainment for the Byzantine Empire and now can be found at the Sultanahmet Meydani, or Sultan Ahmet Square. Visitors that seek enlightenment on the entertainment of another age must add the Hippodrome of Constantinople as one of their stops while in Istanbul.

The Ancient World Loved a Good Time

The Hippodrome of Constantinople was Constantinople’s circus during the Byzantine Empire. It was here that lavish sporting events and socializing took place to flame the passions of citizens. Horse and chariot racing were commonly performed in this structure that predates the period of Constantine.

Built when the city was known as Bysantium, the Emperor Septimus Severus added the hippodrome in AD 203. When Emperor Constantine the Great moved the seat of government to Byzantium or Nova Roma in AD 324, he renovated the Hippodrome. At this time, the Hippodrome was 450 meters long and 130 meters wide and could hold 100,000 spectators. There was a U-shaped race track with the emperor’s lodge at the eastern end of the track. Great statues of horses, chariot drivers, emperors, heroes, and gods once filled the area. The city’s social life centered around the activities in this structure with huge bets on races, supported by Constantinople’s political parties in the Senate. The Hippodrome fallen into ruin by 1453.

People visiting the Hippodrome today can see three monuments of the original Hippodrome on site. The Serpent Column, the Obelisk of Thutmose III and the Walled Obelisk can be easily viewed, as well as the middle barrier of the racecourse, all in a landscaped garden. The Obelisk of Thutmose the III is striking, rising 60 meters and weighing 800 tons. It was constructed by the Pharaoh Tutmos III during his reign from 1549-1503 B.C.  It was erected in Constantinople in 390. Made of pink granite, the marble base shows a relief of the Emperor and his family watching chariot races and makes reference to the Sun God Amon Ra. All of the monuments and decorations at the time were intended to showcase the greatness of Constantinople to the world. Other elements of the Hippodrome can be seen at the Istanbul Archaeological Museum.

Plan Your Visit

The area is now a public park, named At Meydani, or “Horse Grounds”. On a nice day, visitors can easily walk the grounds without worrying about opening hours or entrance fees. The park is Wi-Fi accessible. With such a rich and colorful history, a tour would be the best way to reimagine what happened on site and what life was like throughout the ages.

On a clear day, the Hippodrome is an easy way for visitors to stretch the legs and imagine the social center of the Byzantine period. An accessible public park allows individuals to view the structures and area on their own schedule and can be an excellent stop between other indoor sites.

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