An old engraving of the Hippodrome at Constantinople, sabotaged by Google Books

This afternoon I was trying to find out what early engravings might exist of Constantinople.  The search was mainly vain; but I did learn that a certain Onofrio Panavinio in his Ludi et Circences (1600) had printed an engraving of the Hippodrome.

This may be found here at Flickr, and I have uploaded the original here since it took quite a long time to locate it.  You should be able to click through to the splendid full-size image.

Onufrio Panavinio, engraving of the Hippdrome at Constantinople. Published 1600.

I wondered if perhaps the book itself might exist at Google Books.  A reprint of 1642 has no plates in it; but the original does exist there, and may be found here.  The plate is between pages 60 and 61.  On page 61 Panavinio adds, after discussing the Circus here in Constantinople:

Eius Circi descriptionem, ex antiqua Constantinopolis topographica, quae paulo antequam Urbs in Turcorum potestatem venisset facta fuit, excerpta, sic adieci, parum his quae a Petro Gilio dicuntur quadrantem.  Fieri n. potest ut centum annorum intervallo, Circi sive Hippodromi Constantinopolitani aspectus mutatus sit, Turcis eum indies demolientibus, & vastantibus, ac ad suos usus praeclarissima marmora, & columnas vertentibus.

I have added opposite a drawing of this circus, picked out from the topography of old Constantinople, which was made a little before the city came into the power of the Turks, a quarter of these things which are discussed by Petrus Gyllius.  It has come about that,  as a hundred years has intervened, the appearance of the Circus or Hippodrome of Constantinople has been changed, the Turks from day to day demolishing and devastating it, and putting its most excellent marbles and columns to their own uses.

The absence of any mosques does indeed suggest a 15th century drawing.

The Google Books page for the right-hand side looks as follows:


I thought that I would keep a copy locally, so I downloaded the PDF. Imagine my shock to find that I didn’t get what was visible on-screen.  Instead I got this:


(I have included the full screen in both images because our software tools change so fast at the moment that these may be of interest in five or ten years time!)

I don’t think we need ask which we prefer.  The colour image is far better to work with.

In these early books, moreover, the paper is thin and the text often comes through.  It’s manageable enough in colour images; but in the monochrome ones, this makes the pages near unreadable.

Did Google always do this?  Why don’t they make the images shown onscreen accessible for download?  A bit worrying this, in a way: for the image I have above was something I couldn’t have got from the book.

One postscript to all this.  I found a wonderful site this afternoon, on the Sphendone, the supporting platform at the west end of the Hippodrome.  The site slopes down towards the sea, and the Roman architects built a platform of brick and mortar — known as the Sphendone — to support it.  It’s still there.  The website contains numerous photographs and drawings, as well as an aerial photograph showing the extent of the Hippdrome, superimposed on today’s buildings.  Marvellous, and very recommended.  The author of the page is an artist named Trici Venola.


13 thoughts on “An old engraving of the Hippodrome at Constantinople, sabotaged by Google Books

  1. Hello Roger,
    I have recreated the illustration of the Circus from the Google site. You can download it safely from my Google Drive here.

    Google does make them downloadable from Google books but it requires a kind of trick. The left side of this was slightly shrunk by me to fit better, the center was lightened, the contrast was improved and it was sharpened. There are three versions in this downloadable folder, a .jpg, a .tif, and a Photoshop file (.psd).

    Bob Consoli

  2. Lieber Herr Pearse,
    Google hat – vielleicht wegen des Problems, von dem Sie berichten, viele Bücher mehrfach gescant. Unter dem link fand ich auf p. 145f. das ganze Bild, wenn auch zum Teil in schlkechter Qualität:
    Beste Grüße
    J. Schmidt

  3. I too had a negative experience with images in public domain books. In the past I downloaded some books that had plates from MSS, but for some reason the images themselves were blanked out by Google. It would just have the description of the plate but no actual picture. I thought it must be a mistake until I downloaded a book with 20-something plates in a row (at the back of the book) and all were gone. Bizarre.

  4. I think this is merely incompetence by Google. If you look at the books that they have in preview, which *are* in copyright, the diagrams are always omitted. Whatever they used to do that evidently has been used too widely on their books.

    I don’t know whether that is still the case, tho. It may not be.

  5. Not only that. I have found that in the GoogleBooks on-line copies of a number of 19th-century books containing those marvellous steampunk engravings, these have been buggered up by some sort of overlay that produces stripes of darker area. I expect that Gimp could remove this layer, but I not yet tackled the task (I find Gimp rather daunting). These books are long out of copyright; why does Google interfere with our access to the illustrations?

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