The Hippodrome of Thessaloniki

During the Tetrarchy, the Hippodrome was a significant public building, because apart from the contests held there it was a political space par excellence, where the people communicated with the emperor and expressed the popular will.

The ruins of the Hippodrome are fragmentarily preserved. A small part of the west side is visible east of the Nea Panagia church (Fanarioton Square); other parts are preserved in basements and the open space on the blocks of Hippodromiou Square and D. Gounari, F. Etaireais, and Agapinou Streets.

The Hippodrome was built south of the main street that passed below the Arch of Galerius, between the city walls and the east boundary of the palace. This location allowed the emperor to enter via the palace buildings the imperial box (kathisma), located on the west side of the Hippodrome between the “Apsidal Hall” and Basilica.

Excavations indicate that the Hippodrome was approximately 450 meters long and 95 meters wide. In its northern part (remains on Agapinou Street), which was curved, there were formed 12 spaces framing the central entrance. These served as the parking area and starting-point for chariots (carceres). Apart from the starting gates, there were other spaces in this section reserved for the city’s demes (circus factions). To the north, the Hippodrome was accessible from the avenue, and there was another entrance for the spectators in the sphendone, that is the southern semi-circular part of the building bordered on the south by Mitropoleos Street.

The Hippodrome track was divided lengthwise into two sections by a low wall (the spina) with curved pedestals at its ends. This wall, which was not parallel to the stands, was tilted towards them and adorned with statues, pools, obelisks, and other elements. The location of the spina is identified with a section of the median in Hippodromiou Square.

The seating was elevated in relation to the track, from which the seats were separated by a tall podium with marble revetment about 2 meters high. The substructure for the seating on the east and west sides were different by virtue of the east side’s proximity to the wall.

The construction of the Hippodrome dates to the early 4th century A.D., and according to the written sources it continued in operation until at least the 6th century.

The graphic reconstruction of its ground plan is based on preserved building remains and the comparative study of contemporary hippodromes in Milan and Constantinople.

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The Byzantine Legacy
Created by David Hendrix Copyright 2016