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Saturday, 2 May 2015

Hippodrome Istanbul


Hippodrome – Off to the Races

Hippodrome | Istanbul, Turkey | in-depth travel advice from Terra Encounters
The Ancient Romans and Greeks are descendants of the Proto-Indo-European (aka Aryan) tribes who were a horse riding culture from the Caucasus.  The PIE invented the chariot and it was the primary war technology that enabled the PIE tribes to invade India (Vedic people), Turkey (Hittites and Lycians) and Europe (Romans, Greeks, et al).

Off to the Races
So it is not surprising that the ancients loved chariot racing.  Built in the 4th century CE, the Hippodrome was a 100,000 seat venue for chariot races and other entertainment.  The name is derived from the Greek words hippos ("horse") and dromos ("course").  I wonder what the tickets cost?  Unfortunately, nothing is left of the stands, which were mined for building materials.  All that is left is the modern road paved over the location of the oval race course, which is actually well below the current ground level.

The park before the Blue Mosque was the location of the royal lodge, where the imperial family watched the races. It was connected to their palace, which stood on the grounds of the Blue Mosque (coming to a post near you).  

Tripod of Plataea

Delphi, Greece
All empires pillage the art and sculpture of their conquered territories.  The Byzantines decorated the spina (spine) of their track with artifacts from around the empire.  Constantine ordered the Tripod to be moved from the Temple of Apollo at Delphi and set in middle of the Hippodrome.
Serpent Uprising
The Tripod of Plataea, now known as the Serpent Column, may not look like much.  It celebrates the victory of the Greeks over the Persians at the Battle of Plataea (479 BC).  One of the Persian objectives was to punish Athens for supporting the Ionians, who occupied the Turquoise Coast.  The war ended with the defeat of the Ionians in a naval battle outside Miletus (their capital) in 494 BC.  While the Persians conquered Ionia (temporarily), the war marked the last time the Persian Empire attacked mainland Greece.

What you see today is the bodies of three serpents twisted into one pillar of brass.  What you don't see are the three heads supporting a golden tripod.  What you don't know is that the bronze column was built using the bronze from the melted-down Persian weapons.

Obelisk of Thutmose III


1/3 of Original Obelisk!
The Obelisk of Thutmose III was originally erected at the Temple of Karnak in Luxor during the reign of Tuthmosis III in about 1490 BC.  Theodosius had the obelisk cut into three pieces and brought to Constantinople.  Today only the upper third remains! 

Racing with Theodosius

One of the most interesting things is to examine the rectangular base closely.  Bas-reliefs on the base depict Emperor Theodosius watching the races from the Royal lodge. 

How to raise an obelisk

The Hagia Sophia side depicts the raising of the obelisk using pulleys.  It's still hard to believe how they could lift such heavy red granite. 
Another more recent monument is the German Fountain, which will be described in a future post. 

Nika Riots

The New Empire
Emperor Justinian (527 - 565) expanded the empire to its greatest extent reclaiming much of the original Roman Empire.  He took back Northern Africa from the Vandals and Dalmatia, Sicily, Venice and Rome from the Ostrogoths.

Chariot teams were identified by colours blue, green, red, and white. Social/political classes would support their own chariots.  The team associations had become a focus for various social and political issues for which the general Byzantine population lacked other forms of outlet. 

To Victory -- Nike!

The Nika Revolt was named for the rebels battle cry "Nika", or victory.  This derived from the Greek goddess of victory, Nike, whom we met in Ephesus -- she is also the origin of the name of the running shoe company.

The Nika Riots were a sports riot fuelled by rivalry in the Hippodrome and opposition to the high taxes impose by Emperor Justinian!  At this same moment he was negotiating a peace treaty with Persia.

Justinian had called for races on January 13th. By the end of the day the crowd changed their chants from blue or green to Nika. For the next 5 days they assaulted the palace.  They started fires.  Some senators opposed the new legal system and the new taxes saw this as an opportunity to overthrow Justinian and declare a new emperor in the Hippodrome itself.  Justinian paid off the Blues in gold and they left in the middle of the coronation in the Hippodrome.  The imperial troops then killed the remaining Greens.  In the end 30,000 rioters were killed.  So that rivals any soccer/football hooliganism of today!

Hagia Sophia v3.0
Half of the city as well as Hagia Sophia version 2.0 was burnt down during the Nika riots.  Justinian then built the current version 3.0 of Hagia Sophia with the largest dome raised since the Pantheon in Rome.


Vitale Byzantine Mosaics

He built the Byzantine mosaic masterpiece of San Vitale Church in Ravenna, Italy.  He constructed several underground water supplies like the Basilica Cistern, to ensure adequate water supply in the event of a siege.

His biggest legacy might be the rewriting of Roman law, which is the basis of civil law in many modern countries.  So why did the Byzantine Empire decline?  It started with the bubonic or Justinian plague.  We who live in the present cannot appreciate the impact of huge losses of population.

Next Post: Blue Mosque Exterior

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