The column of Arcadius – a detailed pre-1700 drawing

Yesterday I posted about the column of Arcadius in Constantinople, designed like Trajan’s column in Rome, but destroyed by an earthquake in 1719.  In the process, I came across something rather remarkable – a very detailed drawing of the column, produced shortly before the column fell!  Here it is:

This, I hope you will agree, is remarkable.

The item was published by A. Geoffroy, “La colonne d’Arcadius à Constantinople, d’après un dessin inédit”, in:  Monuments et mémoires de la Fondation Eugène Piot, vol. 2, 1895, pp. 99-130, and online here.  Thankfully the site digitised the drawing properly.  His comments on the column may be summarised briefly, for those who don’t read French.

The first column with bas-reliefs like Trajan’s column was erected by Theodosius I in 386.  The column of Arcadius was erected in 403, on the seventh hill, known as Xerolophos or “the dry hill”, part of the 12th region of the city.  Geoffroy gives as sources Theophanes, Chronography[1], Cedrenus[2], and Codinus, De signis[3].

Theophanes the confessor:[4]

[AM 5895 / AD 402-3 (p.118)] …

In the same year Arkadios set up the column of Xerolophos [12] and founded Arkadioupolis in Thrace.  …

[AM 6041 /AD 548-9 (p.330)]

ln this year there was much terrifying thunder and lightning, so that many were struck by lightning while they slept. On St John’s day the thunder and lightning were so terrible that part of the column of the Xerolophos was sliced off, as was the carved capital of the same column. …[5]

[AM 6232 / AD 740 (p572)]

ln the same year a violent and fearful earthquake occurred at Constantinople on 26 October, indiction 9, a Wednesday, in the 8th hour. Many churches and monasteries collapsed and many people died. There also fell down the statue of Constantine the Great that stood above the gate of Atalos as well as that of Atalos himself, the statue of Arkadios that stood on the column of the Xerolophos, and the statue of Theodosios the Great above the Golden Gate; furthermore, the land walls of the City, many towns and villages in Thrace, Nicomedia in Bithynia, Prainetos, and Nicaea, where only one church was spared. In some places the sea withdrew from its proper boundaries. The quakes continued for twelve months.

Cedrenus has the baffling comment (in the Latin translation):

Xerolophus Arcadii opus est, tauro per omnia simile.

The Xerolophus is the work of Arcadius, with the image of the bull throughout.

But in fact the Forum Tauri was the Forum of Theodosius, not Arcadius.

The “Codinus, De signis” I was unable to locate, but it may be the same as the Patria of Constantinople, which has the following information:[6]

Book 2, 19 (p.63):

On the Xerolophos. -The Xerolophos was formerly called a spectacle. For sixteen spiral columns stood there, a composite statue of Artemis, one of the founder Severus, and a horoscope on three feet. Severus often sacrificed there, and many oracles happened at this place, where also a maiden was sacrificed. And there was an astronomical installation which encompasses thirty-six years. This same Xerolophos had, according to Diakrinomenos, a statue ofTheodosios the Younger, and of Valentinian and Marcianos below the column, but they fell down during an earthquake.

Book 2, 47 (p.83):

On the Tauros. – A statue of Theodosios the Great, which was formerly silver, stands in the Tauros where he used to receive those who came from the foreigners. … Similarly, both the huge, hollow column there and the Xerolophos have the story of the final days of the city and its conquests depicted as reliefs.

It’s rather thin, but that’s what we have.

A description of the column was made in the 16th century by Pierre Gilles, and published in 1561 by his nephew Antoine Gilles.  Extraordinarily Geoffroy does not even  give the titles of the two volumes – the description is in the second – instead referring vaguely to reprints.  I looked at Banduri, Imperium Orientale, vol. 1, online here.  Inspecting the title page (p.49 of the PDF) reveals “Petri Gyllii de topographia Constantinopoleos et de illius antiquitatibus libri iv”.  The description appears to be in book 4, chapter 7, “De septimo colle & duodecima regione, & de columna Arcadii, 416” which is p.711 of the PDF, there being no continuous page numbering.  Being two pages of Latin in archaic typeface, on this hot evening, I will not attempt to make a translation.  But Geoffroy tells us that Gilles had to sneak into the column in order to measure it, because the Turks didn’t want a foreigner to get access, and made his measurements in fear that his lead weight might bang into the sides and give him away!  It had 56 windows, and the stair wound around 223º.  He does not describe the exterior reliefs in any detail, however.

There is a large volume among the collections of Roger de Gaignieres, in the French National Library (BNF) in the prints department, number 6514 in the catalogue drawn up in 1891 by H. Bouchot, and it is headed Topographie de pays etrangers.  In it is found our drawing of the column of Arcadius, on several pieces of 17th century paper.  The original drawing is 2.42 metres long and 0.43m wide.

At the base of the drawing are the words Dessein de la Colomne historiale de coste de la Tramontane.  The sculptures seem damaged, especially where they are closer to the ground.  It is clearly badly cracked, and has been reinforced with iron bands.

The drawing seems to belong to the last decades of the 17th century, as Gaignieres collected between 1680-1711, and the increased damage to the reliefs is noted by travellers after 1650, when the area had acquired shops and a market around and against it.  The column of Theodosius had collapsed in the 16th century, and the Ottoman government, seeing the risk of collapse, had attempted to reinforce it with iron.

It is not clear what the reliefs represented, other than the military triumphs of Theodosius and his house, possibly from the campaigns of 386 against the Goths, which included naval actions by river.

It is wonderful to see what remains of these now vanished monuments.  Who knows what else slumbers, forgotten, in archives or in private hands?

  1. [1]Bonn edition vol. 1, pp.110, 121.
  2. [2]Bonn edition, vol. 1, pp.566-7.
  3. [3]Bonn ed., p.38, 42.
  4. [4]Cyril Mango & Roger Scott (tr.), The Chronicle of Theophanes Confessor, Oxford, 1997, p.118.
  5. [5]This second part is apparently based on John Malalas, 483.22-484.3, p.289 of the Australian translation.
  6. [6]A. Berger, Accounts of medieval Constantinople: the Patria, 2013.  In the notes p.281 he says the Patria is known as pseudo-Codinus.

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 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!

The sack of Constantinople in 1453 (Part 2)

A commenter queried the outcome of an investigation that I began in The sack of Constantinople in 1453, and asked whether the “quote” with which I started was, or was not, found in Critobulous.

Here is the Riggs’ translation of the passage describing the sack of Constantinople, which must be the passage in question (p.71 f.):

§ 237. Then a great slaughter occurred of those who happened to be there: some of them were on the streets, for they had already left the houses and were running toward the tumult when they fell unexpectedly on the swords of the soldiers; others were in their own homes and fell victims to the violence of the Janissaries and other soldiers, without any rhyme or reason; others were resisting, relying on their own courage; still others were fleeing to the churches and making supplication – men, women, and children, everyone, for there was no quarter given.

§ 238. The soldiers fell on them with anger and great wrath. For one thing, they were actuated by the hardships of the siege. For another, some foolish people had hurled taunts and curses at them from the battlements all through the siege. Now, in general they killed so as to frighten all the City, and to terrorize and enslave all by the slaughter.

§ 239.  When they had had enough of murder, and the City was reduced to slavery, some of the troops turned to the mansions of the mighty, by bands and companies and divisions, for plunder and spoil. Others went to the robbing of churches, and others dispersed to the simple homes of the common people, stealing, robbing, plundering, killing, insulting, taking and enslaving men, women, and children, old and young, priests, monks-in short, every age and class.

§ 240. There was a further sight, terrible and pitiful beyond all tragedies: young and chaste women of noble birth and well to do, accustomed to remain at home and who had hardly ever left their own premises, and handsome and lovely maidens of splendid and renowned families, till then unsullied by male eyes-some of these were dragged by force from their chambers and hauled off pitilessly and dishonorably.

§ 241. Other women, sleeping in their beds, had to endure nightmares. Men with swords, their hands bloodstained with murder, breathing out rage, speaking out murder indiscriminate, flushed with all the worst things-this crowd, made up of men from every race and nation, brought together by chance, like wild and ferocious beasts, leaped into the houses, driving them out mercilessly, dragging, rending, forcing, hauling them disgracefully into the public highways, insulting them and doing every evil thing.

§ 242. They say that many of the maidens, even at the mere unaccustomed sight and sound of these men, were terror-stricken and came near losing their very lives. And there were also honorable old men who were dragged by their white hair, and some of them beaten unmercifully. And well-born and beautiful young boys were carried off.

§ 243. There were priests who were driven along, and consecrated virgins who were honorable and wholly unsullied, devoted to God alone and living for Him to whom they had consecrated themselves. Some of these were forced out of their cells and driven off, and others dragged out of the churches where they had taken refuge and driven off with insult and dishonor, their cheeks scratched, amid wailing and lamentation and bitter tears. Tender children were snatched pitilessly from their mothers, young brides separated ruthlessly from their newly-married husbands. And ten thousand other terrible deeds were done.

§ 244. And the desecrating and plundering and robbing of the churches – how can one describe it in words? Some things they threw in dishonor on the ground – ikons and reliquaries and other objects from the churches. The crowd snatched some of these, and some were given over to the fire while others were torn to shreds and scattered at the crossroads. The last resting-places of the blessed men of old were opened, and their remains were taken out and disgracefully torn to pieces, even to shreds, and made the sport of the wind while others were thrown on the streets.

§ 245. Chalices and goblets and vessels to hold the holy sacrifice, some of them were used for drinking and carousing, and others were broken up or melted down and sold. Holy vessels and costly robes richly embroidered with much gold or brilliant with precious stones and pearls were some of them given to the most wicked men for no good use, while others were consigned to the fire and melted down for the gold.

§ 246. And holy and divine books, and others mainly of profane literature and philosophy, were either given to the flames or dishonorably trampled under foot. Many of them were sold for two or three pieces of money, and sometimes for pennies only, not for gain so much as in contempt. Holy altars were torn from their foundations and overthrown. The walls of sanctuaries and cloisters were explored, and the holy places of the shrines were dug into and overthrown in the search for gold. Many other such things they dared to do.

§ 247. Those unfortunate Romans who had been assigned to other parts of the wall and were fighting there, on land and by the sea, supposed that the City was still safe and had not suffered reverses, and that their women and children were free-for they had no knowledge at all of what had happened. They kept on fighting lustily, powerfully resisting the attackers and brilliantly driving off those who were trying to scale the walls. But when they saw the enemy in their rear, attacking them from inside the City, and saw women and children being led away captives and shamefully treated, some were overwhelmed with hopelessness and threw themselves with their weapons over the wall and were killed, while others in utter despair dropped their weapons from hands already paralyzed, and surrendered to the enemy without a struggle, to be treated as the enemy chose.

The extremely vivid language of the original quotation is not, therefore, found in the original.  I suspect that it is a modern rewriting of Critobulos.  One would have to look at “Guerdan and Halliday” to see whether that text was theirs.[1]

UPDATE: I have ordered a copy of Guerdan, so we will find out.

  1. [1]Byzantium: its triumphs and tragedy, by R. Guerdan, trans. by D. L. B. Halliday, Allen and Unwin (1954).

A useful map of Constantinople

Van der Vin’s book[1] also contains a rather useful map of Constantinople, which I think worth sharing.  In particular it shows the location of the Church of the Holy Apostles.


UPDATE: I suppose this map will be more useful to more people, if I OCR the names at the bottom so that Google can find them. They are:
1. Wall of Theodosius II
2. Golden Gate
3. Pege Gate (Selymbria Gate)
4. Hagia Sophia
5. Hagii Apostoli
6. Monastery of St. John in Stoudion
7. Church of Mary Peribleptos
8. Monastery of St. Andrew in Krisei
9. Church of Mary of Blachernae
10. Monastery of St. John in Petra
11. Monastery of Pantocrator
12. Church of St. Stephen in Dafne
13. Church of Mary Hodegetria
14. Monastery of St. George of the Mangana
15. Column of Justinian I (Augusteion)
16. Column of Constantine (Forum of Constantine)
17. Column of Theodosius I (Forum Tauri)
18. Column of Arcadius (Forum of Arcadius)
19. Column of Michael VIII
20. Imperial Palace
21. Bucoleon palace
22. Blachernae palace
23. Hippodrome
24. Obelisk
25. Cistern of Philoxenos
26. Aqueduct of Valens
27. Forum Amastrianum
28. Forum of the Bous
29. Lycus Valley
30. Mese

  1. [1]J.P.A. van der Vin –   Travellers to Greece and Constantinople. Ancient Monuments and Old Traditions  in Medieval Travellers’ Tales (PIHANS 49), 1980. [27 cm, softcover; IX, 751].  ISBN: 90-6258-049-1. Online at the Nederlands Instituut voor het Nabije Oosten – Netherlands Institute for the Near East site.

The church of the Holy Apostles in Constantinople – already in ruins before 1453?

The church of the Holy Apostles in Constantinople was the location of the mausoleum of the emperors.  It doesn’t exist any more, as it was demolished by the Turks after 1453 and a mosque built on the site, the mosque of “Mehmet the Conquerer”.

I’ve seen the statement online, made in such a way as to palliate the destruction, that the church was a ruin before the Turks demolished it.  But I did wonder what the evidence was.

Well, I’ve been working away at Van der Vin’s marvellous book on medieval travellers to Constantinople,[1] which I mentioned earlier.  The website on which it resides did a splendid job and scanned the missing half of the book and fixed the upload in a day!  And this gives us the answer.

From Cristoforo Buondelmonti (ca. 1414-1422), Liber insularum archipelagi:[2]

Next to the church of the Holy Apostles stands the fifth column, the top of which bears an angel of bronze and Constantine on his knees.

The aforesaid church, already ruined by time, contains the sumptuous tombs of the emperors, cut out of purple marble, notably the vast sarcophagus of Constantine.  The column to which Christ was attached for the flagellation may be seen there.

This statement, however, is our only such statement.  Buondelmonti refers to ruins all over the place in Constantinople.

In fact the city was largely in ruins and extensive areas within the walls were just fields and olive groves.  the population had shrunk to a mere 40,000, living in 13 villages scattered here and there over the immense area.

The population estimate comes from an anonymous account written in Munich in 1437.[3]

Ibn Battuta, an Arab traveller who visited the city in 1332 as part of the entourage of a Greek princess, says that the citadel and palace are “is surrounded by the city wall, which is a  formidable one and cannot be taken by assault on the side of the sea.  Within the wall are about thirteen inhabited villages.”[4]

Buondelmonti tells us that the Constantinoplitans are “very few”[5] and concerned with nothing but food.  In 1432 Bertrandon de la Broquiere, a Burgundian nobleman on pilgrimage, tells us that “the city is made up of villages and that there is much more open than built-up.”[6]  Pero Tafur, a Spanish nobleman on pilgrimage who visited around 1437-8, writes:[7]

The city is sparsely populated. It is divided into districts, that by the sea-shore having the largest population. The inhabitants are not well clad, but sad and poor, showing the hardship of their lot which is, however, not so bad as they deserve, for they are a  vicious people, steeped in sin. …

It must have been a sad place, full of ruins and poverty, and an impoverished emperor and his court.  Yet how we would love to see it!

  1. [1]J.P.A. van der Vin –   Travellers to Greece and Constantinople. Ancient Monuments and Old Traditions  in Medieval Travellers’ Tales (PIHANS 49), 1980. [27 cm, softcover; IX, 751].  ISBN: 90-6258-049-1. Online at the Nederlands Instituut voor het Nabije Oosten – Netherlands Institute for the Near East site.
  2. [2]Van der Vin, p.688.
  3. [3]P.254, 443.  The text is Terre hodierne Grecorum et dominia secularia et spiritualia ipsorum; see “Neos hellenomnemon” 7 (1910), p.361.  It reads: “habitantes in ea, ut extimo, quadraginta milia hominum vix possunt interesse, qui in tempore guerrae de suis internis vineis, pratis et ceteris necessariis vivere possunt, prout frequenter probatur.”
  4. [4]P.569.
  5. [5]Van der Vin, p.669.
  6. [6]P.684: I am not entirely certain of the translation of the old French “Tout ainsi que les grosses carraques peuvent venir devant Pere, semblablement font à Constantinoble[sic]. Et est cette cite cy faicte par villaiges et y a beaucop plus de voide que de plain.”  Edition: Ch. Schefer, Le voyage d’Outremer de Bertrandon de la Broquiere, Paris, 1892.
  7. [7]P.703.

From my diary

Another chunk of the transcription of al-Makin has arrived, making 70 pages in all, or around a quarter of Erpenius’ edition.  This is going swimmingly!

One of the reasons why I wanted an electronic transcription of the text is so that I — as a non-Arabic speaker — can use Google Translate on it.  Today I pasted the first chunk into it, to see what happened.  Alas Google Translate for Arabic still has quite a way to go; but I got something.  One interesting bit was the use of “Peace be upon him” at various points.  This is, of course, the section of al-Makin devoted to Islamic rulers, and epitomised from al-Tabari; but it’s still unnerving.

A correspondent sent me a link to another collection of online books: the Nederlands Instituut voor het Nabije Oosten – Netherlands Institute for the Near East.  Most exciting of these — for me — was J.P.A. van der Vin –   Travellers to Greece and Constantinople. Ancient Monuments and Old Traditions  in Medieval Travellers’ Tales (PIHANS 49), 1980. [27 cm, softcover; IX, 751].  ISBN: 90-6258-049-1.

Unfortunately the PDF was incomplete.  It omitted the notes (all placed at the end — aargh!) and indeed about half the book.  I have written to the site, however, and already received a very kind reply, so I have hopes that it is merely a glitch.

Even so I found many statements of interest in it.  Most notably, after 1204, nobody describes Constantinople as a “rich” city any more.  The looting by the Latins clearly beggared the town.  Likewise the population declined so that wide areas of the city were turned into farmland.  I’d like to see the references for this; but I recall that Mesariotes in his very late Description of the Church of the Holy Apostles describes it as lying in the middle of farmland.  Doubtless it was so.  But I shall look into this once I can see the rest of the book.

UPDATE: The site fixed the book within 48 hours! Wow!

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.