This post is part 4 of 17 of my trip to Istanbul. The series intends to give more than just a I-saw-this-and-did-that review. It aims to share the voice inside my head as I explore a world I’ve only read in books.
During the Byzantine period, the Hippodrome was the center of Constantinople’s largest social gatherings. This was the arena where their passion for horse racing and chariot racing took place. The Hippodrome was the only place where the emperor and the masses came together in one venue. And at times, it was also a place for political debates.
The Hippodrome, now known as the Sultanahmet Square, is still a major social scene. It’s like Times Square without the lights, especially during Ramadan. Families of three generations gather together, plop their behinds and mark their spots on the grassy courtyard hours before the sun sets. They sit and chat as they await for the first meal of the day.
Today the seats and columns of the stadium no longer exist and the race track is paved over with cement. The Hippodrome has been replaced by one large courtyard that sits between the Hagia Sophia and The Blue Mosque . Only a few remnants remain of what use to be the racing arena.
I’m not a fan of history. Dates and time lines evaporate somewhere between the a person’s mouth and my earlobes. But facts, depending on how interesting they are, might go in one ear and occasionally out the other. What really sticks with me is seeing the cause and effect relationship between the past and the present.
So when faced with remnants of the Ottoman era, I had to mentally entertain myself. I strolled through the Hippodrome personifying them. What would they look like? What characteristics would they have? What have they seen over these thousands of years? What would I see if I were them?
At one end of the Hippodrome sits is the Egyptian Granny, Obelisk of Thutmose III, who’s in pretty good shape considering the fact that she’s almost 3,500 year old. She’s made with pink granite and was brought over from Temple of Karnak in Luxor, Egypt.
The other end of the Hippodrome is The Grand-Daddy Basil I of Constantine VIII, better known as the Walled Obelisk. He was originally donned with gilded bronze plaques and topped with a sphere. Unfortunately, the Fourth Crusaders came through and stripped him bare. Each of his plaques represented the many victorious battles he had won over the years.
The Old School Warrior is about 2,486 year old and nicknamed the Serpent Column. Quite fitting since he is a bronze statute with three decapitated serpent heads. It’s been said that he was made from the shields of Persian soldiers. He resided in the Hagia Sophia before relocating to the Hippodrome.
I can only imagine, which is exactly what I did, what it would be like to see the world change over 3,500 years – the knowledge that I would accrue, the beauty that I would see, the pain that I would feel and the changes in the human race through the generations. Sometimes I wish I could stand in one place and press rewind, like Adam Sandler in the movie Click or become a reincarnation of a phoenix.