Why Hippodrome is called Sultanahmet today?
This question suggests another one; why Sultanahmet Mosque is called Blue Mosque? Hippodrome means horse course in the Greek Language. Byzantium or New Roman Empire's residents loved games. The Greeks built theaters for comedy and drama and built stadiums for Olympic games. Romans however, built amphitheaters for their gladiator fights and hippodromes for horse races. The Ottomans knew the function of the Hippodrome of Constantinople and simply called it horse square. The Blue Mosque was erected on the foundations of a Roman palace by Sultan I Ahmed. Modern Turkey named the square after the beautiful blue tile decorated mosque of Sultan I Ahmed.
When was Sultanahmet Square was built?
Emperor Septimus Severus built a horse race track to the center of Byzantium city even before it was called New Rome or Constantinople in 203. Constantine the Great declared Byzantium city as the new capital of the Roman Empire in 324. He invested too much in the city's development that the city was called after his name rather than New Rome. Columns of the Ancient World, palaces, and temples were erected around and the middle of the stands which had a hundred thousand capacity in the Roman Era. The hippodrome was 450 meters long and 130 meters wide during Roman times. The starting point of the horse races was on the northern end of the hippodrome nearby Hagia Sophia and there was a 180 degrees turn in the southern end. The U-shaped race track was embellished by The Obelisk of Thutmose III, Serpent Column, and the Walled Obelisk in the middle.
What to see in Sultanahmet?
There are three beautiful ancient columns in Sultanahmet Square today. The first one is a small bronze column that was brought to Istanbul from Delphi of Greece by Constantine the Great in 324. The three intertwined snakes formed column was erected by the Greeks in 479 to commemorate the victory against the Persians after the Battle of Plataea. Heads of the snakes were gold coated and three of them existed until the 17th Century which is obvious from the Ottoman miniatures. Today, only one piece of the bronze snakehead is seen in the Archaeology Museum of Istanbul while the other two are lost. Behind the Serpent Column, you can see the Obelisk of Thutmose III which was brought from Karnak, Egypt in 390. The last column of Sultanahmet Square is the Walled Obelisk. Constantine Porphyrogenitus built the Walled Obelisk which was covered by gilded bronze plaques. They were looted by the Latin troops of the 4th Crusaders. The stone core of the column is seen today.
What to see around Sultanahmet?
The most important attractions of Istanbul are surrounding Sultanahmet Square. Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque, Topkapi Palace, Turkish and Islamic Arts Museum, and the German Fountain are the primary jewels of Sultanahmet Square. While the 14 Century Old Hagia Sophia is the oldest and the most beautiful one of those, German Fountain is considered a baby with 121 years old age. Besides the masterpieces of the Romans and the Ottomans on the ground, Sultanahmet Square has two huge cisterns underground. Yerebatan and Binbirdirek cisterns are just two beautiful intact examples of the hundreds of water reservoirs of the New Roman capital. Not much is left especially from the original stands of the ancient hippodrome but to see the foundations of the Roman Hippodrome, you should walk around the big white building behind the Walled Obelisk which belongs to the Marmara University. The ancient hippodrome stretched more than 200 meters after the Walled Obelisk and the University building sits on the foundations of the Roman Hippodrome which will be seen after a five-minute walk from Sultanahmet Square to a park behind the university. While walking from Hagia Sophia to Sultanahmet Square, please pay attention to the milestone of the Roman Empire which is located a meter below the original tram rails. Pass the traffic lights after exiting Hagia Sophia and turn left. Look right below after fifty steps to see the Roman Mile Stone. Like the old saying, all the roads lead to Rome!
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