Hippodrome of Constantinople

Istanbul, Turkey

Abandoned and destroyed from 1204 onwards

The Disappointed Tourist: Hippodrome of Constantinople, Ellen Harvey, 2021. Oil and acrylic on Gessoboard, 18 x 24″ (46 x 61 cm). Photograph: Etienne Frossard.

The Hippodrome of Constantinople (Turkish: Hipodrom or Sultanahmet Meydanı) was an arena that was the sporting and social centre of Constantinople, capital of the Byzantine Empire. Its primary function was to provide a venue for chariot racing. The hippodrome was expanded from the original more modest version, first by Emperor Septimuius Severus in 203, and by Emperor Constantine the Great after 324, until it was capable of holding 100,000 spectators. The arena was decorated with two obelisks as well as statues of gods, emperors, animals, and heroes, among them, the four statues of horses in gilded copper (now called the Horses of Saint Mark), which were looted during the Fourth Crusade in 1204 and are now installed on St. Mark’s Basilica in Venice. The hippodrome was increasingly abandoned in the years after the crusade and its stone used for building material. Today the site is a square named Sultan Ahmet Square. The square follows the original shape of the hippodrome and a few fragments of the hippodrome are still visible. The Hippodrome was depicted on the Turkish 500 lira banknotes between 1953 and 1976. The painting is based on an uncredited reconstruction that I found on Istanbulclues.com.

Requested by Anon.