The site of the original Hippodrome, which extends away from the Sultanahmet mosque was laid out in 196 by the Roman emperor Severus. Constantine the Great turned it into a vast stadium capable of seating a hundred thousand spectators who watched horse and chariot races, gladiatorial combats, and other spectacles. The Hippodrome was where the heart of Constantinople's social life beat and also where popular displeasure was given voice and sometimes erupted into riots and rebellion.
Like other parts of the city, the Hippodrome was lavishly decorated with monuments and works of art of which only three examples from the Spina (the long structure running down the center of the stadium's course) have survived. The first an Egyptian obelisk called "Dikilitas" in Turkish is also the oldest monument in Istanbul. It is one of a pair of obelisks that were originally erected flanking an ancient Egyptian temple dedicated to Pharaoh Tuthmosis III to celebrate his victorious Mesopotamian campaigns in 1550 BC. The pedestal (which is Byzantine) is decorated with reliefs depicting the everyday life of the imperial families.
A second Spina monument that has survived is called "Orme Sutun" in Turkish and is known as the Column of Constantine Porphyrogenetus, after the Byzantine emperor Constantine VII Porphyrogenetus (912-59) who sheathed the roughly-built pillar of stone in bronze. The bronze plaques were stripped away and looted during the Latin invasion of 1204.
The third monument on the "Spina" is also the oldest work from the ancient Greek world to have survived in Istanbul. Known in Turkish as "Yilanli Sutun", the Serpentine Column was brought here from the Temple of Apollo in Delphi. The shaft of this unusual monument consists of the intertwined bodies of three serpents whose heads originally supported a gold bowl measuring three meter's in diameter. The bowl disappeared long before the Christian era but the shaft of the column and part of the head of one of the serpents (albeit in a somewhat fragmented state) have nevertheless survived.
The Fountain of Wilhelm II (called "Alman Cesmesi") stands at what used to be the entrance to the Hippodrome. It was built to commemorate the state visit of Kaiser Wilhelm II to Istanbul. The fountain was built in Germany, dismantled, transported to Istanbul, and re-erected on its present site. It was dedicated in 1901.