The first “four-horse chariot” races in history were held in the Hippodrome of Constantinople.
This was the largest hippodrome of the ancient world (and the largest stadium of all times) with a design that was conceptually based on the Circus Maximus in Rome which had a capacity of 250,000 spectators.
There were two levels of tribunes – the upper tribune and the columns above it being largely destroyed in 1204 (during the Fourth Crusade) while most of the lower tribune is still intact and in large parts buried circa 6 feet (180 cm) below ground, awaiting excavation to be resurfaced.
Initially built at the time of Septimius Severus, it was later enlarged to surpass in grandeur the Colosseum and the Circus Maximus in Rome at the time of Constantine The Great, who moved the capital of the Roman Empire from Rome to Constantinople (Istanbul) in 330 AD.
The Hippodrome, which remained in great parts intact until the fire of 1204, served for horse races, various other games and public meetings in the presence of the emperor who had his seat in the “Kathisma” – a monumental elevated loge that could be accessed directly from The Great Place.
Initially there were 4 racing teams, carrying the names of the 4 Roman political parties (Demes) which sponsored them: The Greens, The Blues, The Whites and The Reds. Later, The Whites and The Reds ceased to exist, and races were held only between The Greens (Prasinoi) and The Blues (Venetoi).
The main architectural features of the Hippodrome besides the tribunes are the Starting Boxes, the Sphendone (the curved tribune in the south end), and the Spina (the separating wall in the middle of the racing track, embellished with obelisks).
The four bronze horse statues which once stood at the top of the Hippodrome’s ceremonial Entrance Gate are today standing at the top of the San Marco Church in Venice, Italy, and were taken there after the Fourth Crusade (1204).
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