Hippodrome of Constantinople

Hippodrome of Constantinople
Hippodrome of Constantinople

Throughout the 5th century AD the city of Constantinople became one of the largest and busiest metropolises in the world; Capital of the Byzantine Empire, the city was a powerful cultural and artistic focus where some of the most outstanding artistic manifestations of the time emerged. However, the Byzantine society not only raised beautiful artistic monuments but many of the constructions that a priori should have been simply functional were endowed with great beauty; Thus, for example, the Constantinople hippodrome, which was initially intended to host horse races, became an important artistic and monumental enclave. Throughout ancient times, horse racing was one of the most popular recreational activities; both in Ancient Greece and in the Roman Empire and later in Byzantium these races were massive events in which all layers of society participated.


When Emperor Constantine decided to move the capital of his empire from Rome to Constantinople in 324, numerous works were carried out that gave the city a new status. One of those interventions was precisely the construction of a hippodrome or circus in which to carry out horse races. It was a colossal work that in only four hundred meters long and one hundred thirty wide accommodated more than a hundred thousand spectatorswho attended this type of event.

The central track had a U plan and inside it was a low wall, spina, decorated with obelisks and different statues that the riders had to skirt around to complete the route. On one of the short sides of the track, in the eastern area, was the emperor's box, which received the name of Kathisma, and at the opposite end, the stables from which the horses departed and which in Constantinople were decorated with a sculptural ensemble made up of a chariot and a charioteer. The sculptures were looted in the early 13th century around 1204 and taken to Venice where they were placed in St. Mark's Basilica.

In the center of the racecourse was one of the most original works of the time: The Column of Serpents. The work had been looted from the temple of Apollo at Delphi and originally must have commemorated the victory of the Greeks in the Medical Wars. It was a kind of column whose shaft was made up of the figure of three coiled serpents; in the upper area the heads of the serpents were joined supporting a globe of the world. But this was not the only work that adorned the obelisk from looting, special mention deserves the one that has gone down in history with the name of Theodosius obelisk, a large obelisk made of pink marble that was originally located in the Temple of Karnak.

Currently the racecourse track has been covered as a square while some of the monuments that decorated the spine have been fenced offin landscaped areas.

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