Obelisk of Hippodrome


İstanbul is embellished by at least 10 obelisks. They are all extremely valuable historical monuments. I have always been interested in them especially seeing Egyptian obelisk in the middle of another culture fascinated me. No my parents never took me to such sites, I tried to discover them on my own and did my best to do it in my free time. Getting to them was an adventure by its own terms. Where this interest came from I have no clue.

The two largest ones and most visited ones are located in Sultanahmet Square formerly known At Meydanı and even formerly known as the Hippodrome.

The most famous one is of course the Egyptian Obelisk also known as the Column of Theodosius I which was brought from Egypt.

It was originally erected by the Paraoh Totmozis II in 1547 B.C. in a square in the city of Heliopolis (Sun City) in Lower Egypt. It is an obelisk with a height of 30 meters, a pointed prism tip and covered on four sides with hieroglyphs commemorating his victories. I recall the first day when I learned the first words inscribed on the obelisk it read: “This powerful ruler defeated the whole world. He crossed the Euphrates at the head of his soldiers and won the victory.”

This beautiful piece was originally carved out of the hard granite stone of Egypt like all the others. It stood for almost two thousand years proudly erected in Heliopolis which is the modern Ayn Sams (the eyes of the Sun) a suburb of Cairo. During the reign of Theodosius I, he wanted to decorate his city, hence this obelisk was brought to Alexandria with a great cost and from there was transported to Constantinople. Why especially this obelisk out of the millions beats me, maybe it’s another story.

From the pier of Constantinople this beautiful monument was carried by oxen, men and whatever possible creature there was to its present location.

It took them almost a month (to be exact 33 days) to erect the obelisk on top of a marble pedestal. A pedestal that is unique and valuable in its own terms. On this marble there are reliefs depicting scenes from Theodosius’s life. Who would have thought that after years some people from other lands would travel thousands of kilometres just to see this unique obelisk and square. In time the Theodosius Obelisk has become a key element of representing İstanbul and even Turkey.

In the same square we have a second obelisk that is much less glamorous compared to the previous one. It is made of hewn blocks of stone, it’s like an ancient jenga, erected between 911 and 959 during the reign of Emperor Constantine VII. It’s said to have taken the place of an earlier obelisk that stood in the same location. Of course it wasn’t as lame looking when it was first erected. According to the books and the travellers visiting the city it was covered by bronze plated that shone from afar. But with the destructive Christian crusaders it was robbed of its bronze plates. Most probably it was used to mint money. In case of its pedestal there is an epitaph for Constantine obviously.