Hippodrome of Constantinople, located in Sultanahmet/Istanbul, was a public arena mainly for chariot races. The word hippodrome comes from the Greek hippos (horse) and dromos (way). The Hippodrome of Constantinople was also home to gladiatorial games, official ceremonies, celebrations, protests, torture to the convicts and so on. Hippodrome functioned all in Roman (203-330 CE), Byzantine (330-1453 CE), and Ottoman (1453-1922) periods.
When Roman Emperor Septimius Severus conquered ancient Constantinople named Byzantion in 203 CE, he named the city as Augusta Antonina and built many structures. Hippodrome was one of the significant structures built by Severus. However, the first Hippodrome was a small one. In 330 CE, Constantine I declared the city as the capital of the Byzantine Empire and named it Constantinople, meaning Constantine’s city in Greek. One of the first things that Constantine I rebuilt was the Hippodrome. He enlarged the hippodrome and connected it to the Great Palace of Constantinople that today lies underneath the Blue Mosque. Today the foundations of the Great Palace of Constantinople can be seen at the Museum of the Great Palace Mosaics.
The capacity of the hippodrome was approximately 40,000 and it was free and open to male members of the community. At least eight different games could be held throughout the day and it was also used as a symbol of power for the empire. The hippodrome was decorated with monuments that were brought in from across the empire including the Serpent Column (Yılanlı Sütun) from Delphi and Obelisk of Thutmosis III (Obelisk of Theodosius) from Egypt. With these landmarks and monuments -brought from all around the world- the Byzantine Empire was proudly showing its strength and thousands of kilometers long territory ruled by them.
Hippodrome was also used by the Ottomans as well and they named it At Meydanı (Horse Square), yet they simply used it as a square. Constructions of İbrahim Paşa Palace (now housing Turkish and Islamic Art Museum) in 16th century and Blue Mosque in 17th century damaged the hippodrome. Subsequently, mid-eighteenth century onwards it was abandoned and destroyed. Today, the area is known as Sultanahmet Square and it follows the ground plan and dimensions of the hippodrome.
In 390 CE, Byzantine emperor Theodosius I brought the Obelisk of Thutmosis III from Karnak (Southern Egypt) to Constantinople, erected it inside the hippodrome and named it “Obelisk of Theodosius” (Dikilitaş in Turkish). It is one of the twenty-nine Egyptian obelisks in the world. Despite its approx. 3500 years old age, the obelisk is in very good condition.
During the Nika Riots in 532 CE, Byzantine emperor Justinian I ordered the killing of 30,000 people locked in the Hippodrome of Constantinople.
During the Byzantine period, the Hippodrome was the centre of the Constantinopolitans’ everyday life. Huge amounts were bet on chariot races, and there were four teams took part in these races, each one financially sponsored and supported by a different political party (Deme) within the Byzantine Senate: The Blues (Venetoi), the Greens (Prasinoi), the Reds (Rousioi) and the Whites (Leukoi).
Good charioteers were as important as public heroes during the Byzantine period. Legendary charioteer Porphyrios was a very successful charioteer, who raced for both Blues and Greens. According to the primary sources, there were several statues of Charioteer Porphyrios around the hippodrome; unfortunately none of these statues are surviving but the bases of two statues - including an inscription praising Charioteer Porphyrios - are exhibited at the Istanbul Archaeological Museums.
During the Ottoman period in 1720, fifteen-days long circumcision ceremony of the sons of Ahmet III took place in the hippodrome and in Surname-i Vehbi (Ottoman miniature painting book describing the circumcision ceremony of the sons of Ahmet III) the hippodrome is shown with the seats and monuments still intact.
The easiest way to get the Hippodrome is to take a tram to Sultanahmet, from where is it is two minute walk. From Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia it's only two minutes walking distance.
Located in Sultanahmet -the heart of Istanbul’s historical peninsula- the Hippodrome of Constantinople is close to a number of other essential monuments and museums including Blue Mosque, Turkish and Islamic Art Museum, Hagia Sophia, Underground Cistern, and Topkapi Palace.
Located in the most popular touristy area, there a number of accommodation options close by to suit all budgets. Some of the nicest hotels in the area are the Four Seasons Sultanahmet, Ibrahim Pasha Hotel and Armada Sultanahmet Old City.
Hippodrome Square is right next to the Blue Mosque and only two minutes walk from Hagia Sophia.