From Chariot Racing to a Tourist Hub: The Ever-Evolving Hippodrome of Istanbul

The Hippodrome of Istanbul, once a vibrant arena for chariot racing during the Byzantine era, has transformed over the centuries into a popular tourist destination. Located in the heart of the city, it now serves as a historical site where visitors can immerse themselves in Istanbul's rich past while enjoying a leisurely stroll. Originally constructed by Emperor Septimius Severus in the 3rd century, the Hippodrome quickly became a hub of excitement and spectacle. The chariot races held here drew crowds from far and wide, captivating the imaginations of both locals and visitors. As the Byzantine Empire flourished, so did the Hippodrome, undergoing expansions and renovations under the patronage of influential emperors.


Hippodrome, 5th century
Hippodrome, 5th century

During its heyday, the Hippodrome featured a rectangular track and towering seating galleries that accommodated tens of thousands of spectators. The races were intense competitions that brought together charioteers of various backgrounds, creating an electric atmosphere charged with anticipation and adrenaline.

However, as time went on and empires rose and fell, the chariot races faded into the annals of history. With the conquest of Constantinople by the Ottomans in 1453, the Hippodrome underwent a transformation to suit the evolving needs and tastes of the new era.

Under Ottoman rule, the Hippodrome was repurposed into a public square called At Meydanı, or "Horse Square." While the chariot races were no longer held, the focus shifted to equestrian events and military displays, reflecting the changing times. The Ottomans recognized the historical significance of the site and took measures to preserve its legacy.

Today, the Hippodrome stands as a testament to Istanbul's vibrant past and cultural heritage. Tourists from around the world flock to this historical site to explore its remnants and soak in the captivating atmosphere. The Hippodrome's original track has long since disappeared, but its footprint is still visible, marked by ancient pillars, statues, and obelisks.

One of the most prominent features of the Hippodrome is the Obelisk of Theodosius, a towering monument brought from Alexandria. It serves as a reminder of the grandeur that once graced the chariot races and public ceremonies held here. Visitors can also marvel at the Serpent Column, an ancient bronze sculpture, and the Walled Obelisk, both integral parts of the Hippodrome's rich history.

As tourists walk around the Hippodrome, they are transported back in time, imagining the cheers of the crowds and the thundering hooves of chariots. The surrounding area is now bustling with cafes, shops, and restaurants, allowing visitors to immerse themselves in the vibrant atmosphere while enjoying the modern amenities of the city.

The Hippodrome of Istanbul, with its captivating journey from chariot racing to a tourist hub, remains an iconic landmark that showcases the layers of history embedded within the city's fabric. It stands as a testament to the enduring legacy of Istanbul and invites travelers to experience the ancient charm of this remarkable place.