In 330 CE, Constantine I (Constantine the Great) officially inaugurated the city of Constantinople as the capital of the Byzantine Empire. According to primary sources, the Column of Constantine (Çemberlitaş) was also erected in 330 CE with Constantine’s order and it is an honorific column commemorating the foundation of Constantinople and Byzantine Empire (Eastern Roman Empire).
For more than one thousand years, the column was standing in the center of the Forum of Constantine that was one of the most important centers of Byzantine Istanbul (Constantinople). Forum of Constantine was a circular forum with a public square, Column of Constantine, and a lot of shops, therefore everyday life of the forum was very active. Today, nothing remains the Forum of Constantine, but the column is still standing.
The column is approximately thirty five meters long and was made from several porphyry stone blocks. Porphyry is a dark-purple semi-precious stone only found in southern Egypt and it was the imperial stone of the Byzantine Empire. In addition, purple was the color of Byzantine imperial family and only imperial family members were allowed to wear purple clothes.
Column of Constantine experienced many earthquakes, fires, and sieges; however, it never fell. Meanwhile, it was restorated many times even during Ottoman period. Column of Constantine is called as Çemberlitaş (Hooped Stone) in Turkish, because at the end of the seventeenth century Ottoman Sultan Mustafa III ordered it to be supported by iron hoops that are still visible on the column. Today, one thousand seven hundred years old monumental column is still standing and visible from many places in Istanbul’s historical peninsula.
According to a legend, palladium -wooden statue of Athena (Pagan goddess of wisdom) that Odysseus and Diomedes stole from ancient Troy- was buried underneath the Column of Constantine.
The top of the column was decorated with the statue of Constantine I in the figure of Apollo (Pagan sun god) until the 12th century. In 12th century Constantine’s statue was replaced with the cross. However, the cross was removed by the Ottomans after the conquest of Constantinople in 1453. In short, the Column of Constantine had both Pagan and Christian symbols on its top.
Located in Çemberlitaş, the easiest way to get to the Column of Constantine is to take tram and get off at Çemberlitaş tram station that stops in front of the column.
Located very close to Sultanahmet, there are a number of sights to visit close to the Column of Constantine including Nuruosmaniye Mosque, Grand Bazaar, Blue Mosque, Underground Cistern, and Hagia Sophia Museum. There are also a number of nice restaurants in the area such as Nar Restaurant, Dönerci Şahin, and Çemberlitaş Köftecisi.
Located just across the Column of Constantine, hundreds years old Çemberlitaş Hamam is a perfect place to experience Turkish bath tradition.