I am walking on the “Divan Yolu” avenue passed the Hooped Column towards the Sultanahmet square, daydreaming about the days of my childhood. How many times had I passed by the Egyptian Obelisk, by the Blue Mosque? I remember asking my mother about the children's carvings at the base of the monument.I remember her telling me that these were children who raised their hand to their parents and as a result became stone figures. I remember getting very scared. I am thinking that probably my mother heard the story from my grandmother at one time.I keep going towards the Egyptian Obelisk by the Blue Mosque.
The street I am walking on is may be two thousand years old. The avenue called Mese by the Byzantines and renamed Divan Yolu by the Ottomans, the imperial road which started from .the Augustaion square where the Hagia Sophia church is located and ran old the way to Yedikule, the Dungeon of Seven Towers by the Porto Aurora. I kept walking passing the Million stone next to the entrance of the Basilica cistern and turning to the right down the steps towards At Meydani, the Square of Horses.
LAUSOS PALACE WALLS
ZEUS MONUMENT AT LAUSOS PALACE
On my right there are some ruins, a heap of red bricks and rocks, what apparently used to be the walls of an ancient palace .There is a middle age man by the ruins, with a red fez and a burgundy vest with gold colored embroidery in front of a portable cart, trying to sell hot salep,the drink made of the root of Orchis Mascula.The Salep is stored in a copper canister.The sunlight was reflecting from the shiny salep canister on top of the the cart, to the red bricks of the remains of the Lausos Palace. Lausos was a wealthy eunuch who lived in the 5. century A.D.He had built a palace here on a square with sculptures and monuments of the Greek gods in front of the main building The largest of these sculptures belonged to Zeus sitting on a throne, while the most beautiful one was the sculpture of goddess Aphrodite. During the reign of Theodosius II., when Christians started destroying all Pagan sculptures and icons, the palace was burned down and all what’s left today from the palace is the heap of broken red bricks.
As I went down few more steps, I came to a second Agora, a circular platform made of bricks and cobblestones with broken base parts of columns lying around. At one end of the circle the municipality of Fatih has constructed a wooden stage with decorations left from the recent Republic Day Holiday of October 29 and Turkish flags hanging from the ceiling of the stage. Little further down is the entrance of the Cistern of One Thousand and One Columns and the ruins of another Byzantine palace: the Palace of Antiochos which was build to honor the main advisor and chamberlain of Emperor Theodosius II. When Antiochos lost his popularity with the emperor, his palace was burned down and plundered and replaced with the Church of Saint Euphemia in the sixth century.When Ottomans conquered Istanbul in the middle of the fifteenth century they had not found a single trace of the old church here.Ibrahim Pasha, Grand Vizier of Suleiman the Magnificent built his palace on the foundation of the remains of the Palace of Antiochos and the Church of Saint Euphemia. Part of the Ibrahim Pasha palace in the Sultanahmet square has survived to our day. The Ottomans also built the Nuri Osmaniye Mosque in the nearby and used the soil from the foundation to fill the pits in the ruins of Byzantine palaces and churches in the area.
It has been a while since I been in Sultanahmet square and the area of Obelisks by the old hippodrome grounds.Since my last visit here the Hippodrome area has been reorganized, the fast food restaurants and gift shops moved out, the cobble stones replaced and more benches put by the flower beds.But it seemed to me that there was less greenery now than before, some of the huge oak trees were cut down and the whole square had lost something from the natural and oriental look.Thinking about the past I sat down at one of the benches by the Egyptian Obelisk, watching the tourists and the pigeons wandering around .I started daydreaming about Constantine the Great and how the Hippodrome square appeared then.
HIPPODROME 15. CENTURY
Picture from an engraving by Onofrio Panvinio in his workDe Ludis Circensibus (Venice, 1600.) The engraving, dated 1580, may be based on a drawing from the late 15th century. Descrıptıons on the picture by Cem Özmeral.
I was sitting now on the Spina, the raised middle section on the field of the new Hippodrome. Emperor Constantine had built, replacing the old one from the times of Emperor Septimius Severus.The Hippodrome extended all the way from Mese to the Marmara Sea like a huge horseshoe as as large as four football fields. The hippodrome was supported by high walls on the East side where the horseshoe formed a half circle and where the land declined towards the sea at the section called Carcaeres. On the West side right across the Carcaeres where the two sides of the horseshoe was open, there were eight shelters for chariots. In the middle of this line of shelters there was the triumphal arch with four bronze horse sculptures on the top, two of the horses had their front left foot, the other two their front right foot raised up in the air. The Triumphal Quadriga must have been placed here before they were moved to Italy, I thought. I heard the noise of horse hooves and whinnings were coming from a distance..
While I am sitting on the bench I am looking to the Egyptian Obelisk, the obelisk of Thutmosis and trying to visualize all of the obelisks and sculptures on the Spina. The spina was a long narrow platform about five meters above the ground, stretching from one end to the other of the horse shoe. The Egyptian Obelisk had a sculpture of emperor Theodosius carved into the marble base. He was seen here putting a wreath on the neck of a victorious charioteer. On the Northeast side of the base of the obelisk was the emperor's quarters called Kharishma and all of the people here carved into the base started coming to life. Here I saw the royal family dressed in purple and gold cloacks; the empress with a long white dress showing her bare shoulders, little boys and girls with curly hair running around. The Royal quarters were connected through a road with a golden arches to the imperial palace right behind the hippodrome where the Blue mosque stands today.
There were numerous monuments, sculptures and icons on the Spina including the serpentine column with three bronze snake figures tangled around each other and supporting a bronze bowl on top of their heads with a fire burning in it. With my eyes closed I was trying to look into do the flames in the bronze bowl. A fighter with a red cross on his shirt with the blow of his sword separated the bowl from the heads of the snakes. The bowl fell to the ground and as the flames spread the crusader transformed into a yenicheri, an Ottoman soldier. With a second blow by the Yenicheri this time the heads of the three bronze serpentines were separated from their bodies.The golden tripod of Platea, once brought from the island to Delphi to the Hippodrome was now a column of twisted bodies of three serpentines resembling a boat rope or an ivy around a post.
Behind the serpentine column on the spina there was a very tall column named after emperor Constantine himself . The face of the column from top to bottom was covered with bronze plates reflecting sun rays in the daylight and shining like gold. Then some soldiers with crosses on their shields started climbing to the top of the monument. They started pulling the bronze plates off the monument and throwing them down to the ground. All what was left from the Constantine column now was a bare, grey and tall body of a “Walled Obelisk” .
There were also sculptures of Byzantine heroes erected on the Spina and one such hero stood out from the rest because he was represented on seven of them. He was the most famous of the chariot racers of all times ; the great Porphyrios. Still sitting on the bench my eyes closed, I was now trying to visualize the more than hundred thousand people, yelling and cheering in the hippodrome. The spectators were divided into four sections in the horseshoe, they had different colors of flags in their hands and they were chanting loudly. Across where I was sitting on the bench by the present Ibrahim Pasha Palace, two different groups of people were sitting next to each other: the farmers in white color and the poor in red. These were the colors of the common people; white represented the sky and red represented the fire. On my back side where the Blue Mosque stands today next to the emperor’s Kathisma, people had blue flags in their hands, the color of the seas.These were the merchants and the clergy of Constantine’s city and next to them were the artisans with green flags representing the earth.
All of a sudden a well built man by the chariot stalls moved the handle of a crank and all eight doors of the barrier stalls opened .Chariots pulled by four horses and two riders on each bursted out with full speed and started running on the hippodromes u shaped race grounds. The color of the chariots, the riders cloth and the harnesses of the horses were in four different colors just like the colors of the spectators in the stands. All fans were standing, chanting and yelling for the chariots of their color. The horses were running in full speed clockwise, while one of the riders inside the chariots was whipping the horses cruelly the other one was maneuvering the horses around the corners of the arena with the reins.
Just like the racing chariots, the time capsule in my mind had started running faster now. All of a sudden the spectators in the red and white section on the stands started attacking the blue and green sections . Now the Blues and Greens had merged together and started shouting : Nika, Nika !!! . Stones broken from the seats were flying in the air and people were stabbing each other. Emperor Justinian and the royal family have already escaped from the Kathisma to the Grand Palace and armored soldiers with swords and shields started attacking the people. But soon the Blues and Greens took control of the fight, repelled the soldiers from the hippodrome, encircled the emperor's palace and set on fire, while a second group entered the Hagia Sophia and started burning it down. When it all calmed down, more than thirty thousand people were dead, laying on the seats and on the field of the hippodrome, and Emperor Justinian was compromising to the demands of the Blues’ and Greens’.
Suddenly the time capsule had jumped seven hundred years ahead ; this time the Crusaders were burning down and plundering the Hippodrome. Soldiers with crosses on their shields and helmets tore down the base of the Triumphal Quadriga and took the four bronze horses to the direction of the Sphendon to their ship docked at Sea of Marmara.
Awakening from my daydreams and getting up from the bench, I said to myself ; ” When Sultan Mehmet II. had entered the city and rode through the Horse Arena on his white horse on May 29, 1453, there was probably very little left from the hippodrome.” I started walking down the slope to the district of the Church of Sts. Sergius and Bacchus, or the Little Hagia Sophia Mosque as it is known today. On my way down I planned to see the walls of the Hippodrome at the Sphendon section which has survived to our day and to touch and feel them with my hands and maybe take few pictures.