Sultanahmet Square » Distance: 2 minutes walk.
The first of the seven hills on the promontory has been the most important and dynamic part of the city in all ages. When the city was first founded, the acropolis was a typical Mediterranean trading center surrounded by city walls. This trading center was enlarged and rebuilt during Roman times. The most prominent buildings and monuments of the Roman era were built in the vicinity of the Hippodrome. Very few relics of these works have endured to the present day.
The imperial palace, known as the “Great Palace”, used to spread over an area extending from the Hippodrome down to the seashore. Only the mosaic floor panel of a large hall remains from this palace today. The Augusteion, the most important square of the city, used to be here, and between the square and the main avenue there was the Millairium victory arch.The road used to extend as far as Rome and the stone marking the first kilometer was located here. The baths, temples, religious, cultural, administrative and social centers were all in this district. The area maintained its importance in the Byzantine and Turkish eras. Therefore some of the most important monuments of Istanbul such as the Hagia Sophia, Sultan Ahmet Mosque, the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Art and the Basilica Cistern are all located around the Hippodrome.
The main streets in the city (those leading down to the harbor and those extending toward the city walls in the west) started at the Hippodrome and followed the slopes of the hills. The streets were lined with business establishments and mansions. The side streets were narrow and some were stepped. Some of the main streets had two-galleried sidewalks. There were spacious squares along the route and the side roads forking from these squares led to the city gates. The main avenue was called the Mese, and Via Egnetia, the road to Rome, started at the Golden Gate (Altmkapi). Hippodrome means square for horses. The Hippodrome was built by the Roman Emperor Septimius Severus towards the end of the 2nc* century and it was extended to an immense size by Constantine the Great. Some historians claim that it could seat thirty thousand spectators, while others put the figure at sixty thousand. The main attraction was the two or four-horse chariot races. In Roman and Byzantine times, the Hippodrome served as the city’s main meeting, entertainment and sports center until the 10tn century. Like many of the other monuments in the city, it lost its importance with the Latin invasion in 1204. Besides the chariot races and gladiator fights with wild animals, there were performances by musicians, dancers and acrobats. There were many public holidays during Roman times to allow opportunities for all these activities.
The Obelisk of Theodosius » Distance: 2 minutes walk.
Around 1490 BC the Egyptian Pharaoh Thutmose III erected two obelisks before the Karnak temple in Luxor to commemorate the victories of his forces in Mesopotamia. The obelisks were made of rare pink granite. In the 4th century AD, an unknown Roman emperor who wanted to accomplish something impressive that would create excitement among his people had the colossal obelisk brought to Istanbul.
For years it was left lying in a corner of the Hippodrome. In 390, during the reign of Theodosius I, it was erected with great difficulty by Proclus, a city administrator. It is the oldest monument in the city and has always been considered magical. The obelisk rests on four bronze blocks on a Roman base decorated with reliefs. These depict the emperor, his children and other prominent personalities watching the races from the imperial box, as well as the spectators, musicians, dancers and chariot races. The obelisk measures 25.60 m including the base.
The Walled Obelisk » Distance: 2 minutes walk.
Built of roughly cut stones, this imitation obelisk stands at the southern side of the Hippodrome. Its exact date of construction is unknown
It is named after the Emperor Constantine Porphyroenitus who had it repaired in the 10th century. Its bronze plates decorated with golden lettering were plundered by the Fourth Crusaders.
The Walled Obelisk has many names including, “Walled Column” and “Constantine Obelisk”. Located in the former Byzantine Hippodrome, what is now a beautiful park was once where fierce chariot races were held. After the Ottomans conquered the city in 1453, the importance of the Hippodrome wavered yet this column built around the 10th century survived.