Sunday, August 7, 2011

The Hippodrome in Constantinople

Although I've covered the statues looted from the Hippodrome in Constantinople here, others survived into the Ottoman period.

A 5.35 m high bronze column originally stood in the sanctuary at Delphi, where the Serpent Column had been dedicated by the Greeks to celebrate their victory over the Persians at Plataea in 479 BC. It had originally been topped by a gold tripod, but that was looted by the Phocians in 355 BC (Pausanias X.13.9).
















It was presumably brought to the Hippodrome by Constantine, and continues to be there to this day. I was always under the impression that the snake heads were knocked off during the Fourth Crusade in 1204, but they were clearly still intact when this scene from the Surname-i Vehbi was painted in 1582.


This part of the head was excavated near the column and is now in the Archaeological Museum.

Another surviving monument is the base of Theodosius under the Obelisk



This panel is particularly interesting as it shows the Obelisk being erected (the 'crescent' to the right is an artistic shorthand for movement).














The Greek inscription on the west face says that the Obelisk was erected in 32 days.















The Latin inscription on the East face is heavily damaged, but records that the obelisk was raised under the direction of Proclus the governor of Constantinople in "three times ten days" ... (I guess they were hoping no-one noticed the two missing days ...)




I love this scene which depicts contemporary chariot races.

This map shows how the Hippodrome linked up with the imperial palaces, although the Kathisma or royal box is believed to have been opposite the Egyptian Obelisk, on whose base it is depicted, nor opposite the fake obelisk.

The model is the latest reconstruction by the archaeologists and curators at the Topkapi:


The first image (top of post), from Surname-i Vehbi shows the procession of the road sweepers 1582. The one to the left the richer member of the guild of bath towel makers (the Ottomon Hamman or Turkish Bath was a direct continuation of the Roman Baths). The Ottoman processions were also a continuation of Byzantine ones, with the Sutlan in the royal box (left) and courtiers watching from boxes raised between the abutting palaces (right).



This final scene shows the procession of beggars. Knowing that no city was complete without the poor, Constantine arranged for thousands to move from Rome to Constantinople.



There are a number of version of this map made by Cristoforo Buondelmonti in the 1420s, and these are our major source for pre-Ottoman Constantinople. All show the hippodrome.


The reason I've included so many version of Buondelmonti's maps is to show how much their details varied - see for example these two version of Haghia Sophia ...




Although most of the sculptures from the Hippodrome were lost long ago, we know that there were seven statues of the charioteer Porphyrios on the spina. Two of the bases survive and are now in the Archaeological Museum.


I love picking up old photos of places I've visited rather than souvenirs ... so before I went to Istanbul in May I looked on eBay and found this 19th century photo by Pascal Sebah.

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