The old Hippodrome (Hipodrom) of Constantinople is now a landscaped city park that is locally known as “At Meydani” (Horse Grounds). The square is well worth a visit if you want to enjoy the Mediterranean climate of Istanbul and see a glimpse of the old Constantinople at the same time.
Constructed in its original form in the third century, the Hippodrome’s race track once welcomed over 100,000 spectators who watched the chariot races from surrounding galleries. Court ceremonies, parades and coronation events also took place here under Byzantine Imperial rule. Much of the original Hippodrome has been lost, but you can still follow the original path of the race track, which is now clearly paved. Admire one of Istanbul’s oldest monuments: the Obelisk of Theodosius. It was built in ancient Egypt before being brought to Istanbul by emperor Theodosius the Great the end of the fourth century.
An even older column that still stands on the Hippodrome is the Tripod of Plataea, better known as the Serpent Column, which commemorates the Greek victory over the Persians in 480 B.C. This bronze tripod was taken from Delphi by Emperor Constantine and brought to this site while he renovated the existing Hippodrome as part of a general expansion of the city. Head to the northern side of the square to find a more modern, European addition to the Hippodrome: A gazebo known as “The Kaiser Wilhelm Fountain.” It was a gift from Germany and erected in 1900.
The Hippodrome was famously the site of seven statues built in honor of the legendary Roman charioteer Porphyrius. The bases of two are still displayed in the nearby Istanbul Archaeological Museum, which also houses one of the serpent heads of the Tripod of Plataea.
The Hippodrome lies at the heart of Istanbul’s historic district in the Old City and is close to other main attractions such as the Hagia Sophia. As a public garden square, the site of the old Hippodrome is well worth a visit to bask in the Istanbul sunshine and enjoy a glimpse into the life and leisure of the old Constantinople.