Originally built in the third century, the Hippodrome of Constantinople was the sporting and cultural center of the former Byzantine capital for over 1,000 years. With a U-shaped race track and two levels of spectator galleries, the Hippodrome likely held more than 100,000 people. While the Byzantine emperors (and later the Ottoman sultans) took great pride in the Hippodrome and devoted significant efforts to embellishing it, little remains of the original structure today.
Sultan Ahmet Square (Sultanahmet Meydani or At Meydani)now covers the former site of the Hippodrome and largely follows its ground plan and dimensions. Pavement marks the course of the old race track and several interesting monuments remain as well. You can’t miss the towering Obelisk of Theodosius, the oldest monument in all of Istanbul. Made of pink granite, it was originally erected at the Amun Re temple at Karnak in Egypt, but was brought to Istanbul by the Emperor Theodosius in the fourth century. South of the Obelisk, you will find a spiral column that once formed part of a golden basin brought to the city by Constantine the Great from the temple of Apollo in Delphi. You can also see what is known as the Walled Obelisk – the stone core of a 10th century obelisk that was once covered with bronze plaques. At the base of the obelisks and column, you can see where the original ground level of the Hippodrome once stood, about 2.5 meters below ground.
Near the northern entrance to the square, you will find the Kaiser Wilhelm’s Fountain, a stone gazebo with a mosaic-tiled dome that was a gift from the Kaiser in 1901.