The Enchanted City Of Columns

The columns of İstanbul – usually referred to by the public as the “erected stones” – should not just be viewed as symbols of political strength or as İstanbul’s ornaments. These columns used to have different functions that are little known today. All but one of them are talismans.

To protect their beautiful city from various disasters or outbreaks of illness, the inhabitants of İstanbul adorned the city with talismans. In total, 24 talismans were installed in Pagan-era İstanbul. Though they were reminders of pagan times, these enchanted columns were not demolished once Christianity became the official state religion. In fact, the Emperor Constantine erected his own statue atop one of these columns and and protected them.

In time, new columns were added to those which existed to adorn the city. The Obelisk of Theodosius, which was brought from Egypt, and the Serpent Column from Delphi were placed at the center of the Hippodrome. Thus, columns became an inseparable part of İstanbul’s identity. During the time of the Ottoman Empire, these columns also attracted the attention of Evliya Çelebi, our famous traveler. Though they have succumbed to disasters, natural wear and tear, and have dwindled in number over time, some of these columns have managed to carry on their existence up to today.

DEFYING THE YEARS
A comprehensive development effort began to renew İstanbul, which was designed as the center of a giant empire. In a separate effort, a new city – Nova Roma – was created with artifacts brought from various parts of the world. The Milestone, which appears quite insignificant nowadays, was erected at ground zero of this new capital, which was to become the center of the entire world. This is where Mesa began, the main avenue of the city. The most important structures were also positioned around the vicinity: the Hagia Sofia, center of religious life; and the Hippodrome, center of social life.

COLUMNS AT THE HIPPODROME
The columns erected at the center (Spina) of the Hippodrome, some of which are still standing today to the amazement of viewers, are among the favorite of tourists. The most important of these is the obelisk erected by Emperor Theodosius the Great in 390 AD and named after him, The Obelisk of Theodosius. The ruler of Egypt, Tutmosis III, had erected it in front of the Temple of Karnak in Luxor in 1150 BCE to commemorate a victory.

THE SERPENT COLUMN
Another column in the same square is the Serpent Column, another monument to a victory, which was erected in Delphi. It is accepted that the column was produced by melting down the shields of Persian soldiers who were killed in the Battle of Plataea. According to Çelebi, the column was enchanted by a soothsayer and protected the city against poisonous creatures such as snakes and scorpions.

THE WALLED OBELISK
The third column on this route is the Walled Obelisk , believed to be erected by Emperor Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus, though other views do exist. Besides seeing use as a climbing tower for the Turks due to its height of 32 meters, the column’s purpose as a talisman was, according to Çelebi, to soothe the inhabitants of İstanbul in times of scarcity.

THE COLUMN OF CONSTANTINE
As we move out to Divanyolu Avenue and walk toward Beyazıt, on the right side of the rode we see The Column of Constantine. Legend has it that the Christians’ most important relics are buried beneath the column, which is known as Çemberlitaş – “ringed stone” – in Turkish and is also called the “Burnt Column” by some foreigners due to the fact that it became discolored by fires.

A statue of a starling which was located at its top when it was first built would let out a piercing cry in times of famine, calling other starlings which would save the city from starvation with the olives that they would bring with them. Constantine had this statue knocked down, having his own statue erected in its place. This statue was knocked down as a result of a lightning strike in 1081. The column was eventually repaired by Alexios Komnenos and a cross was erected at its peak. The column, which later saw damage due to various fires and earthquakes, was encircled by a stone wall as a final measure likely after the fire of 1799.

COLUMN OF ARCADIUS
The Column of Arcadius, which is located in the Arcadius Forum (known today as Cerrahpaşa) was erected by the eponymous emperor to commemorate his father, Theodosius I, and his own victories. The top of the column, which stood 40 meters high at that time, was reached through a spiral staircase built within it. The structure, which gradually came to be surrounded by houses as the area became densely populated, was damaged by a fire which broke out in the 17th century, and was removed in 1715 due to fears that it would collapse. According to Evliya Çelebi, there was a beautiful statue of a fairy to guard the city against danger housed in the lodge at the top of the column. The fairy’s mission was to alert the approach of the enemy by sounding a piercing cry, which would also draw the birds in the vicinity. This statue was demolished during the reign of Emperor Constantine; bells were hung in its place to signal the arrival of the enemy.

COLUMN OF MARCIAN
The column, known today as Kıztaşı (“Girl’s Stone” in Turkish), was erected in Saraçhane for the Emperor Marcian. There is a a capital decorated with Roman eagles in relief topping it, which used to have a bronze statue of Marcianus standing on it. It is thought that its local name, “Girl’s Stone”, is due to the statue of Nike which appears at its base. On the other hand, the name is ascribed to an alternate origin in a story repeated by Çelebi. According to the story, a sarcophagus at the top of the column contained the body of the daughter of one of İstanbul’s kings, who had passed away in an untimely fashion. The talismanic power of the column known as the “Girl’s Stone”, then, was to prevent the premarital death of girls who embraced it.

ÇEMBERLİTAŞ EFSANESİ
Çemberlitaş Sütunu ile ilgili en çarpıcı şehir efsanesi, temelinde Kudüs’ten getirilen ve isa peygambere ait olduğuna inanılan bazı hatıraların olduğu rivayetidir. Gövdesindeki metal halkalarla İstanbul’un en dikkat çeken sütunlarından biridir Çemberlitaş Sütunu. Sütun, M.S. 4. yüzyılda, aynı zamanda İstanbul kentinin isim babası olan imparator I. Konstantin adına dikildi. imparator I. Konstantin’in emriyle Roma kentindeki Apollon Mabedi’nden alınarak İstanbul’a getirilen Çemberlitaş Sütunu bu yönüyle devşirme bir yapı. Büyük Konstantin’in bu sütunu Roma’dan getirip, yeni başkentine dikmesi aslında bu yeni kentin, yani İstanbul’un ‘Nova Roma’ yani Yeni Roma oluşunun da bir tesciliydi adeta. Zamanın yıpratıcılığına ve İstanbul’un depremlerine direnerek günümüze kadar ulaşan eserin en üst bölümünde çeşitli imparatorların heykelleri arz-ı endam ederdi. Apollon Sütunu olarak da adlandırılan Çemberlitaş Sütunu’nun günümüze kadar ulaşmasında Osmanlı döneminde gördüğü bakım ve tamirlerin de payı büyüktür.

THE LEGEND OF THE COLUMN OF CONSTANTINE
The most remarkable urban legend surrounding the Column of Constantine (aka the ‘Burnt Column’) is the belief that it was brought from Jerusalem and contained relics from the life of Jesus. Among İstanbul’s columns it stands out for the metal hoops that encircle it. Erected in the 4th century A.D. by Constantine I (the Great), the Byzantine emperor for whom the city was named, it was removed at his behest from the Temple of Apollo in Rome and brought to İstanbul and is therefore a composite structure.

Constantine the Great’s bringing this ‘Column of Apollo’ from Rome and erecting it in his new capital virtually clinched the city’s identity as ‘Nova Roma’, or the New Rome. Down the centuries, statues of various emperors stood atop the column, which has endured time’s depredations and İstanbul’s earthquakes to survive to our day, thanks in large part to repairs and maintenance during the Ottoman period.