İstanbul is one of the most historical and beautiful cities in the world. The city has been the capital of three great empires, the Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman. Sultanahmet Square is located in the south-eastern of Istanbul and the district where you find the Topkapi Palace, the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque, is the heart of tourism in Istanbul. In the Byzantine and Ottoman eras, the religious, cultural, administrative and social centers were all in this district so, tourists come to see historic Old Istanbul’s most prominent buildings and monuments.
Sultanahmet Square was the heart of Constantinople in terms of political, religious and social life in in the Byzantine era. Masters of the Old Istanbul built the Great Palace as the primary administrative and political centre of the city. As a religious centre, the Hagia Sophia was the greatest cathedral at the time, a place that belonged to God and the emperor. The Hippodrome was the sporting and social centre of the Constantinople. After the Fall of Constantinople, the Ottomans did not change the scheme of city, the Topkapi Palace was built instead of the destroyed palace as a political centre. The Hagia Sophia was converted into a mosque and the Blue Mosque was added as a religious place. With the construction of the Blue Mosque, the Hippodrome lost its popularity and became Horse Square, a place where Ottomans trained their horses. Although the buildings and inhabitants changed, the area kept its importance in the Byzantine and Ottoman eras.
Let’s mention about the Hagia Sophia. “Where is the Hagia Sophia ?” is one of the first questions of the Sultanahmet hotels’ occupants. If you don’t tour inside so far, it is exactly time to do it. Nevertheless, have a walk around it to see its marvelous architecture before entering inside. There are a lot of destroyed stones and columns that comes from the Nika Riots. When you enter inside, you will see the informations about what the church looks like after the Nika Riots. The fires that started during the revolt resulted in the destruction of much of the Hagia Sophia that was the city’s foremost church.
The Hagia Sophia was the largest building in the world at the time of its construction and it is one of the greatest surviving examples of Byzantine architecture. The feature of its architecture is not only in the magnitude size. The church is famous in particular for its massive dome. In the Ancient Rome, the buildings were made in the round plan like the Pantheon. The Hagia Sophia is the first example of a dome that closes the four corner building, not in terms of decoration. The dome is 55.6 meter from floor level and its weight is distributed on 107 columns in the building. Interior surfaces are covered with 30 million gold mosaics, polychrome marbles, green and white with purple porphyry. Unfortunately, it is forbidden to visit the tombs of the Ottoman Emperiors in the backyard no matter that the mosaic tiles are very nice.
If we try to tell thoroughly the Hagia Sophia, there will be no space to write for others. In this guide, we pass another stop that is the Basilica Cistern across the street from the Hagia Sophia. The city’s biggest cistern was built to store water for the Topkapı Palace, the Great Palace and nearby buildings. It has 336 marble columns that are arranged in 12 rows of 28 each. Its measures are 138 meters long and 64.6 meters wide. It covers nearly 1000 square meters and its capacity nearly 100,000 cubic meters of water but it changes from season to season. Also, the bases of two columns have a visage of the head called the Gorgon in Greek mythology. The origin of the two heads is unknown but it is believed that horrifying visages turn those who behold her to stone.
The Hippodrome was built by the Roman Emperor in 203 AD and then, it was restorated and adorned with obeliks brought from different parts of the Roman Empire in the Byzantine era. It was the biggest Hippodrome with the capacity of 100,000 spectators, 117m. wide and 480m. long. In the middle of the Hippodrome, there was a line called Spina that the chariot races took place around it. The races used to start by the order of the emperor and the contestants had to complete around the Spina. The Hippodrome was not only sporting place also political discussions were often made by the Emperor and the common citizens coming together in a single venue. The original ground level of the Hippodrome was almost 5 meters below than the present surface. The Spina was decorated with monuments and columns but only three monuments have remained to our day: Obelisk of Thutmose III, the Serpent Column and the Walled Obelisk.
Firstly, Obelisk of Thutmose III was brought from Egypt to Constantinople by the Roman Emperior Theodosius. The obelisk was originally one of the two obelisks which were erected in the name of Thutmose III, Pharaoh of Egypt. It gives some informations about the pharaoh’s Mesopotamia conquest and the races of the time. The original piece was longer than today’s measurement which is thought to be two thirds of the original.
Secondly, Serpent Column was erected in front of the Apollo Temple in Delphi to celebrate the victory of the Greeks over the Persians during the Persian Wars in the 5th century BC. The column was brought from Delphi by Constantine I. It has three serpent heads, one of them is in the Archaeological Museum and it is not known what happened to other two serpent heads.
Thirdly, Walled Obelisk is not a monolith but a column built of stones and it is located at the end of the Hippodrome. It is not known who erected it and when it was built however, it was renovated and restored to have a more beautiful appearance by Constantine VII. The column was originally covered with gilded bronze plaques but they destroyed over time. Also, the stone core of this column survives, known as the Walled Obelisk.
Another tourist attraction we haven’t talked over yet is the Sultanahmet Mosque popularly known as the Blue Mosque. The mosque is an example of classical Turkish architecture and Islamic art. The mosque was built during the Ottoman Sultan Ahmed I by architect Sedefkâr Mehmet Ağa who was a pupil of the chief Ottoman architect Mimar Sinan. The mosque’s construction took seven years and the architect applied a plan used previously by his master, but on a larger scale. The mosque used to has a large complex, comprises a bazaar, Turkish hamams, a hospital, a madrasah, a caravanserai, and the tomb of Sultan Ahmet I. Unfortunately, some of these social and cultural complexes have not survived to our day. The minarets of the mosque are common feature of Turkish architecture but the architect desires this mosque in memory of the Sultan so it has to be greatest. It is the only mosque that was built with six minarets in the world so you can see a mosque with six minarets only in the Sultanahmet Square. At the time of its construction, the Masjid al-Haram in Mecca also had six minarets but the Sultan send his architect to Mecca to add one more minaret not to be a matter of contention. Another unique feature of the mosque is 20,000 handmade blue ceramic tiles, made at Iznik in more than fifty different tulip designs that is why it is popularly known as the Blue Mosque.
The Palace of Ibrahim Pasha is opposite the Sultan Ahmet Mosque and this elegant building is now used as the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Art. The place was constructed as a palace of Pargali Ibrahim Pasa who was the first grand vizier to Suleiman the Magnificent and husband of his sister. The Pasha hosted the Sultan in this palace for child’s incredible circumcision ceremony. In the end, they drunk a freezing fruit compote and the sultan said that your ceremony had been more magnicifent than mine. The pasha answered that the most respectful guest had been me in your ceremony however, you have been my guest that was why my ceremony has been more magnicifent. Following the death of Ibrahim Pasha, the museum has been exhibiting collection of religious and other Turkish treasures dating from the 8th Century. This place worth to see both as a museum and a palace.
In conclusion, Sultanahmet hotels are in walking distance to this sightseeing tour. When the tour is over you will turn off a page that has witnessed the history.