Table of Contents
About the Monoliths of Istanbul
Monoliths are high, monumental high stones erected on behalf of any event and person in ancient times and the Middle Ages, often with inscriptions indicating why it was erected. The custom of erecting monoliths was especially common in Ancient Egypt but also this tradition can be seen in Assyrian, Aksum and Roman civilizations. There are numerous modern monoliths in Istanbul and around the world too.
Stones rising to the sky, seen in many places from Stonehenge to Gobeklitepe, are products of similar impulses. This impulse are not exclusive to prehistoric beliefs. The columns used in the pagan temples of the ancient world were not put there only as the supporting elements of the structure.
Structural elements that point to the sky are also seen in places of worship of heavenly religions. The bell towers of churches and the minarets of mosques fulfill other functions besides transmitting the sound further.
Perhaps the root of all this orientation to heaven is the desire to have divine power that is believed to be there, who knows?
Despite all the years that have passed, some stones in question are still standing. Besides the obelisks that stand out like Sultanahmet Square, it is possible to come across examples hidden in the nooks of the city. These stones continue their existence as silent witnesses of the power that Byzantium once had.
I compiled a list of the most famous obelisks in Istanbul for you. I hope you will enjoy the list and maybe one day we can visit obelisks of Istanbul with you too! Contact me for more information and to book a professional licensed tour guide in Istanbul, Turkey. See you soon, Hasan Gülday.
Mysterious Monoliths of Istanbul
Column of Constantine or Cemberlitas
Constantine column was erected in the middle of the large square on the second hill of Istanbul in honor of the emperor Constantine, due to the transfer of the capital from Rome to Istanbul in 330 AD. The square known as Forum Constantine and was surrounded by columned galleries. Constantine obelisk is also known as “burnt column” or “Cemberlitas / Stavros Column”.
Shorter version than the original obelisk has survived. In the past, there was a statue of the emperor Constantine posing as the sun god on the top of the column. The porphyry blocks of the column were surrounded by iron circles as they cracked over time. It is believed that there is a small room at the bottom of the column, and a room of sacred relics from the early Christian period.
The Million Stone: Center of the Earth
Located opposite the Hagia Sophia Mosque, next to the Basilica Cistern and remaining from the Byzantine period, the historical stone symbolizes the starting point of the ancient Roman roads and the zero meridian.
The column, thought to have been placed in the time of Constantine I, was considered the starting point of all Ancient Roman roads and the zero point used to calculate the distance of all cities in the world to Constantinople, the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire.
Today, on the small roads around the obelisk, surrounded by glass screens, there is a wooden floor on which the distance of other cities in the world to Istanbul is written.
Obelisk of Theodosius or Dikilitas
Romans used the monuments in Egypt to decorate their cities. According to Evliya Çelebi, these monuments were erected to protect the city from natural disasters
Theodosius Obelisk was built in the time of Egyptian Pharaoh Thutmosis the Third. According to some historians Thutmosis the Third erected this structure in memory of his victories in Asia and, according to some, in the memory of his 30th anniversary in power. The obelisk was brought from Egypt to Constantinapolis. However, due to technical difficulties, the stone was erected in its present location by Theodosios in 390.
The obelisk, made of a monolithic pink granite, is 19.6 meters on its own and 24.87 meters with its base. The obelisk weighs 200 tons.
Column of Marcian or Kız Tasi
The Columnstone or Markianos Column is a monument erected in 455 by the governor of the city, Tatian, in memory of the Eastern Roman Emperor Markianos.
According to a legend from the Roman period, when the emperor Justinian built the Hagia Sophia, a girl with enchanted powers was carrying a large column. Meanwhile, a spiritual being confronted the girl and asked where she was taking the stone. The girl said she takes it to Hagia Sophia. The spiritual being said that he was too late and that he should not carry the stone in vain. The girl left the stone there and came to today’s Sultanahmet square to see the situation and realized that the spiritual being was lying. She wanted to go back and move the stone again. But the girl’s magical powers were no longer useful. She couldn’t lift the stone. Marcian column has remained in Fatih since that day.
Serpent Column, also known as Burma Pillar, brought to Istanbul by Emperor Constantine. It was originally erected in the Temple of Apollo in Delphi, in memory of the victory of the Greek city-states over the Persians.
According to the description of Heredotos, this monument, made of bronze, consisted of three snakes entangled and rising upward and a large cauldron on snake heads. Over time, the cauldron and valuable gold sections at the top of the monument were also destroyed.
Walled Obelisk, or less known as the Constantine Obelisk, is 32 meters tall. Although it bears the name of the city’s founder, it is not clear who built it. It was cared for only by the 7th Constantine and relief depictions describing the battles and victories of his father Emperor Basil I were added. “Constantine the seventh created a masterpiece to compete with the colossus monument in the city of Rhodes” is inscribed on the marble base.
It is known that there was a bronze sphere on the top of the Walled Obelisk and bronze reliefs along the column. Unfortunately, these were also melted (like many works) during the Latin Invasion for the purpose of minting money.
Column of the Goths
It is the oldest monument from the Roman era to the present day without any changes. Erected in the 3rd or 4th century, the column is 15 meters tall monolith marble on a high base. The column head is decorated with an eagle crest in Corinthian style.
The column in Sarayburnu takes its name from the dedication of Eastern Rome to the victory over the Goths. However, which victory this was, the commander of the victory and the date are uncertain. Therefore, the date when the column was erected is not certain.
Aiming Stones of Istanbul from the Ottoman Era
In the past, when the sultans went hunting, they erected monoliths in the form of a monument to the place where the arrow they shot at the furthest place fell. Undoubtedly, archery was one of the greatest ancestor sports of the Ottoman Empire. With this ancestral sport that started with the Turks in Central Asia and continued in the Ottoman Empire, aiming stones were used to calculate the shots and determine the distance. Winners, distances and degrees were written on these engagement stones.
Several of this monolithic aiming stones can be seen all around Istanbul today. The most popular and visited ones are; Hacı Beşir Ağa Aiming Stone, Sultan Mahmut II’s Aiming Stone, Sultan Selim the Third Aiming Stone, Sultan Mahmut the Second Aiming Stone, Sultan Abdülmecid Aiming Stone.
Get Your Tour Guide in Istanbul
Contact me to learn more on monoliths of Istanbul or to hire a professional licensed Turkish tour guide in Istanbul.