Built in the third century, the Hippodrome was the home of now-named Istanbul’s sporting entertainment during the Byzantine era, with a wide track for chariot racing. Today, the route of the old track is covered by Sultanahmet Square, a wide open space in the center of the old city, punctuated by ancient obelisks.
The current Hippodrome traces the course of the ancient race track, though the actual remains are still underground. The square contains the Obelisk of Theodosius, a pink, Egyptian-made granite column that was brought to Istanbul in the fourth century and is one of the oldest monuments in the city. Also here are a spiralled obelisk that came from the temple of Apollo, the Walled Obelisk, and the German Fountain, a gift from Kaiser Wilhelm in the early 20th century.
Some small-group and private tours combine a visit to the Hippodrome with other sights in Sultanahmet, including the Blue Mosque, the Hagia Sophia, Topkapi Palace, and the Basilica Cistern.
Things to Know Before You Go
- The Hippodrome is a must-visit for history buffs.
- Wear comfortable shoes to stroll around the Hippodrome.
- The Hippodrome is flat and handicap accessible.
How to Get There
The Hippodrome is in Istanbul’s bustling Sultanahmet neighborhood, between the Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sophia and close to Topkapi Palace. It is minutes away from the Sultanahmet tram stop and is also easily accessible by taxi. Parking is limited in the area, so driving is not recommended.
When to Get There
The Sultanahmet area and the Hippodrome can get very busy, so it’s best to arrive early in the day or after the main sights have closed. Weekends and sunny days during the peak season are the busiest. The Hippodrome is now a public square, so it is open every day, all day.
Archaeology at the Hippodrome
Much of the historical Hippodrome is still underground. It’s possible to see part of the original level of the racecourse at the base of the ancient obelisks that dot the square. Some of the Hippodrome’s original statues and seats have been uncovered over the years, and are now housed in the Istanbul Archaeology Museums.