Where to find remains of the Hippodrome seating today

A few days ago I posted some photographs of the 1950 excavations of the Hippodrome in Istanbul here.

Today I came across Eileen Stephenson’s Beginner’s Guide to the Hippdrome post, which includes photographs of various bits of the Hippodrome that I had not noticed on my own visit.  These include the seating that was excavated.

She writes:

Towards the end of our stay we visited the Turkish & Islamic Arts Museum, which was built across the square from the Blue Mosque and over some of the stands of the Hippodrome. In the lowest level of this museum you can find these remnants of the Hippodrome. …  Then another passageway with the remains of the stands.

Clearly well worth visiting!

A June 1935 photograph of the Sphendone in Istanbul

Tourists who visit the Hippodrome in Istanbul are usually unaware that the far end is in fact supported by Byzantine masonry, as the land falls away on that side.  The construction is called the sphendone.  These days a Turkish official building sits on top of it.

Here’s a particularly nice photograph of the sphendone, as it appeared in June 1935.  I found it at DOAKS here, part of the Nicholas Artamonoff collection (Negative Number:  RA64; Reaccession Number: ICFA.NA.0021)

Very sharp, and very clear!  Lovely.  I must go and look at the sphendone if I can ever return to Istanbul!

Photos of archaeological work in the Hippodrome in Istanbul

A couple of photographs appeared on Twitter last year, from the @ByzantineLegacy account, of the 1950 excavations of the Hippodrome in Istanbul undertaken by Rüstem Duyuran.  Here’s the first:

That looks like some of the seating, today invisible, to my ignorant eyes.

This seems to be from the account of @Seda_Ozen, who also published two more:

Definitely the stadium steps!


I wonder if there is an account of the excavations in English or French anywhere?

UPDATE: A kind commenter points us to a summary of the research in English here, and with an additional picture:

PDFs can disappear, so let me record the salient bits here.  The article is by Meryem Arlette Cenani, “A summary of archaeological research in Turkey in 1950”, published by the Touring and Automobile Club of Turkey in 1952.  She writes:


Situated close to the Mesa or Middle Street, to St. Sophia and to the Emperors’ Great Palace, the Hippodrome was not only the meeting-place of chariot-racing enthusiasts, but also the starting-point of numerous political riots and revolutions.lt thus played an active and very important part in the history of Byzantium since the IVth century A.D.

Its axis, the «Spina», was decorated with rare works of art and monuments, some of which remained in situ to this day and can be seen on the Sultanahmet Meydam in Istanbul. The seats were built around the race-track, with the Imperial box in the place of honour.

North-West of the Great Palace and the Hippodrome, were the residences of high dignitaries of the Empire and, among these, the beautiful palaces of Lausos, patrician and governor under the Emperor Arcadius (395/408 A.D.) and of Antiochos who was councillor to young Theodosius II (408/450 A.D.). He later attained the highest honours but died a priest. His name was given to the quarter of Byzantium where he had lived and the Antiochos Gate was one of the main entrances to the Hippodrome.

Small churches and other monuments existed in the vicinity, but they disappeared in the course of time.

In 1950, while laying the foundations of a Court of Justice, so many valuable fragments were brought to light that the Museum of Antiquities at Istanbul intervened and began, with the support of the Ministry of education, the systematic excavation of the site, recording and preservating, whenever possible, important remains, under the supervision of Bay Rustem Duyuran, Assistant Director.

Two areas were excavated:

A) . Buildings grouped around the Martyrion of St. Euphemia (Vth century A.D.) excavated in 1942 by Dr. A. M. Schneider, of the German Archaeological Institute at Istanbul.

The church of St. Euphemia was adjacent to a «porticus semirotunda», a semi-circular portico, the axis of which was parallel to the Hippodrome. Excavations in 1950 showed that the building, which subsequently became the Martyrion, was originally the center of a complex of rooms disposed along this portico, the whole being part of a large palace. It is hoped that further excavations will enable the more exact designation of the ruins uncovered, as they coincide with the emplacement where the palaces of Lausos and Antiochos had once stood.

Traces of frescoes were discovered on the walls of a small church close to St. Euphemia. Both its floor and that of another building nearby were covered with «opus sectile» polychrome marble pavements of floral and geometric designs.

A IXth century frescoe of the Deisis (Adoration of Christ), already published by Dr. Schneider, was brought to light West of St. Euphemia, as well as another wall-painting representing a cross among flowers, which probably belongs to the period of the Latin conquest of Constantinople (XIIIth century A.D.).

B) . Archaeological remains connected with the Hippodrome.

This area is close to the Atmeydani and parallel to it. Six rows of seats «in situ» were first excavated. The lowest row is almost on level with the Atmeydani. A trench dug in front of the seats struck the Hippodrome pavement at a depth of 4 m, 46.

The thick sustaining wall back of the seats was cleared on a length of approximately 70 m. Behind it was a staircase leading to the highest row. Back of this staircase, a wide street appeared. It was paved with dark grey stones and a canal ran under it in a North to South direction.

According to the building technique and the materials used, the earliest structures belong to the period of Septimus Severus (beginning of the third century A.D.).

A bath ends the street on the West. Although rebuilt in early Turkish times, it was originally Byzantine. On either side of it was a marble staircase. The stairs on the right lead to a semi-circular gateway consisting of four steps: this probably was the famous Antiochos Gate.

A third area (C), lying between the Hippodrome and St. Euphemia, is to be excavated in 1951-52.

Soundings made in the «Earliest Level», the thickness of which is of 40/50 cm. over virgin soil, uncovered potsherds ranging from the IVth century B.C. to late Roman times. Although Byzantine and Islamic pottery was abundant all over the excavations, the disturbed state of the ground, into which so many foundations had been dug at all periods, prevents strati graphical study.

About 40 copper coins of the 9th/11th centuries and numerous stamped bricks were collected as well as bronze candelabra and clay lamps.

Archaeologists are indebted to the Turkish Government who enabled them to hold up the construction of the new Court of Justice in order to carry out these excavations which are of the highest importance for the historical and topographical study of Byzantium and have awakened a world-wide interest.

She adds:

Most of the information in this summary is extracted from the journals «Anatolian Studies», Vol. 1, 1951 and «Anadolu» No. 1, 1951.

Unfortunately Anatolian Studies (which is on JSTOR) does not refer to the Hippodrome excavations.  Anadolu is online here, but dates from 1956.

But all this is certainly more than we knew before! Thank you!

Some photographs of seats in the Hippodrome of Istanbul from 1950

The Hippodrome of Constantinople remains a splendid place, even in modern Istanbul.  But I was unaware that in 1950 a Turkish archaeologist excavated on the west side of the hippodrome, and uncovered some of the seats.  This week I came across some photographs from the excavations online, here, here and here.  So I thought that I would share them with you!  (I gather from Wikipedia that further digging outside the Sultan Ahmet mosque in the 90’s uncovered more material, but this I know nothing about).  We must all be grateful to those who located and placed these photos online.

Also online I discovered photographs of two column capitals, today in the Istanbul museum.  It must have been really splendid!

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.