Sultanahmet Square: Hippodrome of Costantinople, what to see, do

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Sultanahmet Square, also known as the Hippodrome of Constantinople, is one of the most historic locations and squares in Istanbul. This is a site that has been important for centuries, serving as the chariot racing grounds for the Byzantine Empire. Today, visitors can explore the square and take in its magnificent monuments and architecture.

Sultanahmet Square is surrounded by the world famous sights of Hagia Sophia Grand Mosque, Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts and the Blue Mosque. It should be on the top of your list of places to visit in Istanbul.

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Info & History

Sultanahmet Square one of the city’s most significant and visited landmarks. The square was once the site of the Hippodrome of Constantinople, which was the center of political and cultural life during the Byzantine Empire. Today, it is a popular meeting place for both locals and tourists, and surrounded by some of Istanbul’s most famous historical sites.

The history of Sultanahmet Square dates back to the 3rd century AD when the Byzantine Emperor Septimius Severus built the Hippodrome of Constantinople as a place for chariot races and other public events.

The Hippodrome was the center of the city’s social and cultural life for centuries and witnessed many important events, including the Nika Riot of 532 AD, which nearly destroyed the city.

During the Ottoman period, the Hippodrome was largely destroyed, and the area was redeveloped into a public square. The name “Sultanahmet” comes from the nearby Blue Mosque, which was commissioned by Sultan Ahmet I in the early 17th century and overlooks the square.

Today, Sultanahmet Square is home to several important historical sites, including the Blue Mosque, the Hagia Sophia, the Basilica Cistern, and the Obelisk of Theodosius. It is also a popular spot for tourists to relax and take in the stunning views of these iconic structures.

In addition to its historical significance, Sultanahmet Square has played a pivotal role in modern Turkish history. It was the site of several major political demonstrations during the late 20th century, including the 1977 May Day riots, which resulted in the deaths of dozens of people.

What to see on the site?

Sultanahmet Square is the main point of the Sultanahmet district. You’ll see many tourists admiring the surroundings or taking photos in the square which proves us how admirable this place is. One of the best ways to experience Sultanahmet Square is on foot.

You can see the Egyptian Obelisk, the Serpentine Column, the Colossus or Column of Costantine Porphyrgenitus, the German Fountain on the site of the Sultanahmet Square, which dates back to the 4th century hippodrome from the Byzantium era. These three monuments are all lined up along the center of the ancient hippodrome area that the ancient racers turn around.

You can also explore the nearby historical sites, take a stroll around the square, or simply relax and people-watch while enjoying the beauty of one of the city’s most iconic locations.

The Egyptian Obelisk

Obelisk of Theodosius, a towering monument erected in the 4th century AD, and take a leisurely stroll around the square. The Obelisk is one of the most impressive sights in the square and is covered in intricate carvings depicting events from ancient Egyptian history.

It stands on a marble pedestal and depicts the Byzantine Emperor Teodosius I, as well as audience watching the horse races.

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The Colossus

This is a 32 meters very impressive column. The brass plates that covers the top of the column and the bronze sphere on the top were used by the Latins during 1200s.

The Serpentine Column

This is a very unusual monument that adorns the square. The column is a talisman brought from the Delphi Temple in Apollo for protecting the city from the insect invasion. There you will see 3 snakes that are intertwined and heads are severed. You can see the only remaining snake-head exhibited at the Istanbul Archaeology Museums.

The German Fountain

Next, head over to the German Fountain, a beautiful neo-Byzantine structure gifted to Istanbul by Kaiser Wilhelm II. The fountain was built to commemorate the 2nd anniversary of his visit to Istanbul in 1898 and is covered in intricate mosaics and ornate carvings.

Historical German Fountain in Hippodrome, Sultanahmet square against blue sky in Istanbul, Turkey

Despite the fact that it was built by the Germans, the fountain is heavily influenced by Islamic architecture.

What to see surrounding Sultanahmet Square?

From the German Fountain, take a walk along the southern side of the square towards the Blue Mosque.

Sultanahmet Blue Mosque

The Sultanahmet Blue Mosque is an Ottoman-era historical majestic mosque in Istanbul. This stunning mosque was completed in the early 17th century and features intricate tilework, soaring domes, and six minarets. Visitors can explore the mosque’s interior and admire the beautiful calligraphy and intricate designs adorning the walls and ceilings.

Blue Mosque at Sultanahmet Square on Ramadan in Istanbul, Turkey. At the end of the day the fast is broken with prayer and a meal called the iftar.

The mosque’s interior walls are adorned with hand-painted blue tiles, and at night, the mosque is bathed in blue as lights frame the mosque’s five main domes, six minarets, and eight secondary domes. It is a unique structure that has brought a new perspective to mosque culture which showcases one of the most successful examples of Turkish-Islamic architecture.

Visit Blue Mosque

Across from the Blue Mosque is Hagia Sophia, a masterpiece of Byzantine architecture and features impressive domes, intricate mosaics, and stunning artwork.

Hagia Sophia

Hagia Sophia, also known as the Church of the Holy Wisdom or the Church of the Divine Wisdom, is an ancient Byzantine church in Istanbul and one of the world’s great greatest architectural works, as well as accepted as the 8th wonder of the world.

Famous Hagia Sophia in the evening sun rays, Istanbul, Turkey

Being converted into a mosque by Fatih Sultan Mehmet after Istanbul’s conquest in 1453, it was than converted to a museum in 1935 and finally in 2020 it was declared as a mosque. The magnificent architecture and stunning mosaics inside make it a must-visit spot.

Visit Hagia Sophia

Finally, make your way to the Topkapi Palace, one of Istanbul’s most famous landmarks. This sprawling palace complex was the seat of Ottoman power for over 400 years and features impressive courtyards, ornate gardens, and a vast collection of artifacts from the Ottoman era.

Topkapi Palace

Topkapi Palace is one of the most visited sights in Istanbul, as well as the richest museums in the world. The palace is a must-see destination for anyone interested in Turkish history and culture, offering a glimpse into the opulence and grandeur of the Ottoman Empire. Topkapi Palace was the home of the Ottoman sultans for almost 400 years. The palace is now a museum that displays Ottoman artifacts, including weapons, ceramics, and textiles.

Topkapi Palace, Istanbul, Turkey

Among them is one of the world’s largest diamonds, the most precious Islamic relics, a map with the earliest portrayal of America, high-quality Chinese porcelain, rare Islamic gilded miniatures, and calligraphy examples from numerous Muslim Asian empires. The artifacts are a sight to behold.

Visit Topkapi Palace Museum

If you have time, you can also visit the below sights.

The Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts

Located at the Sultanahmet Square, the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts is one of the most significant cultural institutions in Turkey. This museum exhibits a vast collection of Turkish and Islamic artifacts, including textiles, ceramics, metalwork, calligraphy, and manuscripts. The museum is an excellent place to learn about the history of Turkish and Islamic arts.

The museum building itself is a work of art. It was originally built in the 16th century as the palace of Ibrahim Pasha, the grand vizier of Suleiman the Magnificent. The palace was later converted into a museum in 1914.

The museum has a collection of about 40,000 relics spanning from the 7th century to the present and exhibitions of fine art, crafts, carpets, manuscripts and calligraphy, wooden works, stonework, glass, metal and ethnography sections.

Among the most notable exhibits are the Quran and the prayer rug of Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent. There are also displays of ceramics from the Seljuk and Ottoman periods, metalwork, calligraphy, and carpets.

Hurrem Sultan Hammam

The ancient Hurrem Sultan Hammam (Turkish Bath) (1556-1557), built between the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque, was constructed by Architect Sinan at the request of the Hurrem Sultan, the famed wife of Ottoman Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent. It is Turkey’s largest historical hammam and was erected on the site of Zeuxippus’ ancient public baths (100-200 AD).

Hagia Sophia Hurrem Sultan Bathhouse in Sultanahmet Square, Istanbul City, Turkey

The operational Turkish bath (separate baths for men and women) provides a variety of hammam packages that include different massage therapies and rituals. There is also an outdoor cafe and restaurant where you may relax while strolling through Sultanahmet.

Tips for Exploring Sultanahmet Square:

  • Wear comfortable shoes as there is a lot of walking involved.
  • Visit early in the morning to avoid the crowds.
  • Dress modestly when visiting religious sites like the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia.
  • Consider hiring a guide to learn more about the history and significance of the square’s landmarks.

Getting to Sultanahmet Square Tips

Topkapi Palace is located in Sultanahmet neighborhood, which belongs to Fatih district. See on google map.

For those coming from Taksim, Galata or Besiktas areas, can take the Kabatas-Bagcilar T1 tram line passing through Kabatas, Karakoy, and get off at Sultanahmet stop.

For those on the Asian side of Istanbul, can take the ferry to Eminonu or take the Marmaray line from Uskudar and get off at the Sirkeci stop. And than you can take the Kabatas-Bagcilar tram line passing through Eminönü and Sirkeci stops, and get off at Sultanahmet stop.

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