The Hippodrome of Istanbul: Silent Witness of History
+90.384.341.40.44 Monday - Friday: 09:00 - 18:00 (GMT+3) / Saturday - Sunday: CLOSED

The Hippodrome

The sporting and social center of Constantinople

Best Known for
The Obelisk

Built
203

Civilization
Roman

Suggested Duration
20 min

If you know your history or have watched a few blockbuster ancient Rome films, you probably have an idea of how exhilarating and bloody Roman chariot races could be. While we can no longer experience this messy tradition, a situation that many people are grateful for, there are still places that let you peek into an age where the greatest of champions were baptized in blood. One of these places is the Hippodrome of Istanbul.

Known today as the Sultanahmet Square, the Hippodrome of Istanbul once hosted the fiercest chariot races as the empire watched on, and tens of thousands of Constantinople’s citizens cheered on their favored champions.

Not much of the original structure remains today, but the Hippodrome still attracts copious tourists each year.

Concierge Pin

Planning a trip to Istanbul soon? Answer this trip planner and get your FREE quotation within 24 hours.

If you know your history or have watched a few blockbuster ancient Rome films, you probably have an idea of how exhilarating and bloody Roman chariot races could be. While we can no longer experience this messy tradition, a situation that many people are grateful for, there are still places that let you peek into an age where the greatest of champions were baptized in blood. One of these places is the Hippodrome of Istanbul.

Known today as the Sultanahmet Square, the Hippodrome of Istanbul once hosted the fiercest chariot races as the empire watched on, and tens of thousands of Constantinople’s citizens cheered on their favored champions.

Not much of the original structure remains today, but the Hippodrome still attracts copious tourists each year.

Concierge Pin

Planning a trip to Istanbul soon? Answer this trip planner and get your FREE quotation within 24 hours.

The History

Monuments

Blues & Greens

Key Features

Tips & Etiquette

After the empire, Constantine conquered Byzantium and declared the city as the Roman Empire’s capital; he decided to renovate the existing small hippodrome into a grander one. Construction started in 203, and the resulting structure in Constantinople became the second-largest track in the ancient world.

The city of Constantinople had a population of 500,000, and the hippodrome served as their primary entertainment center. Here, crowds watched and cheered on as chariots drawn by four horses racing to the death, but the structure’s importance extended farther than that; Since the empire also watched on from his lodge (Kathisma), the hippodrome allowed him to interact with the people.

The empire Constantine was so committed to making a magnificent hippodrome that he commissioned three spectacular monuments to be erected at the heart of the Hippodrome of Constantinople. Today, you can still these monuments in Sultanahmet Square:

Obelisk of Theodosius

The Obelisk of Theodosius is the most important monument in the Hippodrome. It was initially erected in ancient Egypt in 1600 BCE. The emperor initiated a project to move the structure from Egypt to Constantinople using one of the largest ships in the Roman navy. The monolithic granite column arrived in the city 60 years later, in 390 BCE, and was erected by the city’s governor to honor the reigning Emperor Theodosius.

Serpent Column

This column was brought from the city of Delphi in ancient Greece. During the Greco-Persian wars, it was made from defeated Persian soldiers’ shields to celebrate the Greek city-states’ victory. Nonetheless, the snakeheads which were once part of the serpent column are no longer there.

Walled Obelisk

Also known as the Column of Constantine, this obelisk was once a grand column surrounded by bronze and silver plates. Although its origins are unknown, it was rebuilt in the 10th century in honor of Emperor Constantine VII. Later on, during the 4th Crusade in the Sack of Constantinople in 1204, the Walled Obelisk was stripped of its bronze and silver plating.

German Fountain

This fountain is the youngest monument in the Hippodrome, added in the 20th century by Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany. The German ruler had a friendship with the Ottoman Sultan Abdulhamid II, and the fountain was a symbol of their company. The small fountain is a pretty magnificent structure, with breathtaking golden mosaics under its dome.

During its time as a competitive stage for the best chariot racers in the empire, four teams took part in the races, including The Blues and Greens. These teams were sponsored and supported by different classes; the Blues had the wealthy class while the Greens had the farmers and other workers behind them.

Conditions between these two classes of supporters were so tense that even the smallest of sparks could result in an uprising. In fact, two of the most significant rebellions arose from the hippodrome, first during Anastasias and later during that of Justinian (the Nika Revolt). The latter was so devastating that it sent ripples through to the future of the Byzantine Empire. After this revolt, the chariot races started losing their significance and with them the Hippodrome.

  • The Obelisk of Theodosius is approximately 3,500 years old and still in excellent condition.
  • The obelisk lost almost half of its length while in transit to Constantinople. To compensate for this loss, the column was erected on a marble base.
  • The Hippodrome of Constantinople design was inspired by the Circus Maximus in Rome, which was the only track in the ancient world more extensive than the Hippodrome.
  • Thirty thousand people were killed in the Hippodrome during the Nika Revolt on the emperor’s orders.
  • Champion charioteers were considered public heroes, and some even earned themselves statues in the Hippodrome.
  • In 1720, the sons Ahmet III were circumcised in a fifteen-day ceremony in the Hippodrome.
  • The Hippodrome can be very crowded in the high season of tourists in Istanbul. If you mind the crowds, avoid scheduling your visit in spring and fall, which are the peak tourist seasons in Istanbul.
  • Crowds come with lots of risks, including pickpockets. To avoid falling victim to them, keep your valuable items in safe and secure places.

For more tips on a better journey of Istanbul and Turkey as a whole, check out our complete guide to safe travel in the country.

Visiting the Hippodrome of Constantinople

The Hippodrome’s location at the heart of Sultanahmet Square makes accessing it relatively easy. To get there by public transport, take a tram to Sultanahmet, which is only 2 minutes away from the square. You can also take a bus to Eminonu, which is just a short walk away, or the metro to Vezneciler and walk for about 25 minutes to the Hippodrome.

Over 90% of the original hippodrome was destroyed during the Ottoman era, so don’t expect to see an ancient race track during your visit. Nonetheless, the square in which the remains of the Hippodrome are housed is a pretty idyllic place to explore.

The temple-like German fountain is still working, and the golden mosaics are a breathtaking sight. The three columns are also a significant tourist attraction in the Hippodrome. At the obelisk, admire the intricate roman artwork decorating the marble base and the Egyptian inscriptions along the column. The spiral bronze base of the Serpent Column is one of the finest examples of Greek ingenuity in Istanbul.

At the northern end of the Hippodrome is a little park that sits above the Basilica Cistern. There is a stone tower that used to be part of the city’s ancient system of aqueducts. Next to the stone tower are the remains of the triumphal gate (Milion) used as the zero-mile-marker in the chariot races on the Roman road (Mese) between Rome and Constantinople.

The Hippodrome also offers you the most picturesque view of the iconic Blue Mosque, which is not far off from the square. In general, the Hippodrome is a must-visit for anyone who plans on exploring Istanbul. It offers its visitors a unique blend of what was once the nerve of entertainment in Constantinople and a modern square in one of the world’s most breathtaking cities.

Istanbul Tours

What is Nearby

The Hippodrome sits amongst the most attractive sites in Turkey. Not far away is the Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque, Basilica Cistern, Topkapi Palace, Hagia Irene, and the Turkish and Islamic Art Museum. Therefore, don’t forget to include these magnificent sites as you tour the Hippodrome.

More Travel Inspirations?

Would like to join the other happy travelers?

We go beyond what is possible for 100% guest satisfaction!