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x0x Journey into the Past in Istanbul

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  • Turkish Radio Hour
    [See http://www.briankohl.com/photogallery/turkey-istanbul-cistern_hippodrome-main.html for more.] x0x Journey into the Past in Istanbul By Prof. Dr. METIN AND
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 5, 2005
      [See http://www.briankohl.com/photogallery/turkey-istanbul-cistern_hippodrome-main.html for more.]

      x0x Journey into the Past in Istanbul

      By Prof. Dr. METIN AND

      Byzantine Istanbul was filled with statues and monuments of
      many kinds, but over the centuries many of these were damaged or
      destroyed in earthquakes, fires and looting, or carried off when the
      city was sacked. Huge quantities of valuables and works of art were
      plundered or disappeared when the crusaders attacked and captured
      Istanbul in 1204. Some of the works of art which adorned Istanbul were
      depicted by Europeans or Ottoman miniature painters in past centuries,
      especially those in the Byzantine hippodrome in Sultanahmet Square.


      Watching the chariot races at the hippodrome were the only occasions
      when the Byzantine emperor made public appearances in the city. Of the
      monuments which stood on the spina which ran along the centre of the
      hippodrome, three have survived to the present day: The Serpent
      Column, the Stone Column, and the Egyptian Obelisk.

      The bronze Serpent Column, which consisted of three entwined
      serpents, was brought from the Temple of Apollo at Delphi by the
      Emperor Constantine. The three serpent heads were intact until the
      18th century, when according to various sources they were chopped off
      either by a janissary or by an enraged Pole. One of these heads was
      recovered in excavations in the 20th century and placed in Istanbul
      Archaeological Museum. Today this monument is 5.3 metres in height,
      but was originally higher. The Stone Column has a Greek inscription on
      the plinth, which consists of three steps, explaining that it was
      repaired by Romanus II and his son in the 10th century. This column is
      approximately 21 metres in height, and built of square ashlar blocks.

      The Egyptian obelisk was erected on this spot in the year 390 by
      Theodosius the Great. The plinth is Byzantine and has relief pictures
      on all four faces, and inscriptions on two faces, one in Latin the
      other in Greek. Unfortunately these have suffered badly from


      In the place where the German Fountain stands today were four statues
      of horses cast in bronze, each on its own column. They were brought to
      Istanbul by Theodosius II in the 5th century, and were originally
      gilded. In 1204 the Latin crusaders who occupied Istanbul carried
      these statues to Venice, where they were placed on the facade of St
      Mark's Church. To prevent damage from erosion, the original horses
      have now been placed inside the church, and reproductions put in their
      place on the facade. An Ottoman miniature by an anonymous artist
      depicting these horses is in a 16th century manuscript entitled
      `Wonders of Art and Nature' at the British Library in London. The
      miniature was evidently painted from descriptions rather than life,
      since there are three instead of four horses, and four instead of
      three serpent's heads on the Serpent Column.


      A 16th century illustration in the Freshfield Album in Trinity College
      Library at Cambridge University depicts the hippodrome with all the
      realism of a photograph. It shows the three monuments that are still
      standing there today, and behind them a building which must have been
      one of the vezir's palaces that stood where Sultanahmet Mosque is
      today. To the left of Haghia Sophia is a large red building of which
      no trace now remains. This was the magnificent Zeuksippos Bath built
      in Roman times, and named after the Temple of Zeus which stood next to
      it. Inside this building were statues of philosophers, poets and

      In Istanbul University Library there is another miniature dating from
      the reign of Sultan Suleyman the Magnificent showing the hippodrome in
      detail. At the bottom of the picture is Ibrahim Pasa Palace, which has
      a tower with a conical cap. During festivals and ceremonies the
      sultan, his ministers and foreign guests would watch the spectacles
      from the balconies of this palace.

      Today the remaining section of the palace houses the Museum
      of Turkish and Islamic Art. At the south end of the hippodrome was a
      semicircular colonnade known as a sphendone.

      The 17 columns of the sphendone was still standing in the reign of
      Suleyman the Magnificent. Another miniature In Istanbul University
      Library depicts the celebrations of the circumcision of the sons of
      Suleyman the Magnificent held in the hippodrome in 1530. In this
      miniature we see two columns. Sultan Suleyman is watching the
      festivities from Ibrahim Pasa Palace. One acrobat is climbing the
      Stone Column, and another the Egyptian obelisk, while a third is
      balanced at the top of a pole. In the background food is being served
      to the spectators. As in the Freshfield miniature, the Zeuksippos Bath
      is also depicted.


      A 16th century miniature in Istanbul University Library shows the
      equestrian statue of the Emperor Justinian, the three monuments in the
      hippodrome, and Haghia Sophia. The statue of Justinian on horseback
      originally stood in the forecourt of Haghia Sophia. The emperor held a
      globe symbolising his victory over the world in one hand, while with
      the other he pointed to the Eastern or non-Christian world. This
      statue was placed in the courtyard at Topkapi Palace, but later melted
      down to make cannon.
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