Where is the obelisks in istanbul? What is the definition of obelisks? What is the history of the obelisks?
The obelisk in Sultanahmet Square was first set up by Thutmose III, one of the pharaohs of Egypt, in the 15th century BCE. Its height is 18.45 meters (24.87 meters together with the base) and it is made of pink granite. On each face of the column, the victories of Pharaoh Thutmose III, and the sacrifices he offered to Amun-Ra were narrated. It weighs about 200 tons.
This monumental column was brought to Istanbul by the Roman Emperor Theodosius I in 390. That is why it is also known as the Obelisk of Theodosius. In the west face of the column, Theodosius is portrayed while he is sitting on his throne with his wife and children and accepting the messengers.
In the base of the Obelisk, the following passages is written in Greek and Latin:
The passage in Greek is written through the words of a narrator:
“This column with four sides which lay on the earth, only the emperor Theodosius dared to lift again its burden; Proclos was invited to execute his order; and this great column stood up in 32 days.”
The Latin passage is written from the mouth of the stone:
“Though formerly I opposed resistance, I was ordered to obey the serene masters and to carry their palm, once the tyrants had been overcome. All things yield to Theodosius and to his everlasting descendants. This is true of me too – I was mastered and overcome in three times ten days and raised towards the upper air, under governor Proculus.”
The Walled Obelisk
The obelisk which is located in Sultanahmet Square was built in the 4th or 5th century. Because it was restored by Constantine VII in 944, it is also known as Constantine Obelisk. The 32 meters high column was constructed of cut stones.
As reported in the older sources, the column was covered with gilded bronze plaques which portray the victories of Basil I, the grandfather of Constantine VII. Moreover, there was a globe at the top of the obelisk. Yet, during the Fourth Crusaders, the gilded bronze plaques were stolen and melted by the Crusader army.
The Million Stone
The Stone which is located opposite to Hagia Sophia Mosque, close to the Basilica Cistern, and next to the tramway road was used as a “mile-marker.” It was accepted as the starting point of all roads in Byzantine, and the central point while measuring the distances of other cities to Byzantium. It is estimated that the stone was erected in the 4th century by the Emperor Constantine I.
Its shape during the Byzantine Period was much different than the shape of the obelisk today. At the time, there were four doors facing to each direction, and a dome that was based on four columns.
The Serpent Column
The Serpent Column is located in Sultanahmet Square. This monument was set up in the Temples of Apollo to commemorate the victory of 31 Greek city-states united against the Persians in the Battle of Plataea in 479 BCE. This column was made by melting the bronze booties they gained in the war. Later on, it was brought to Istanbul by the Byzantine Emperor Constantine I (324- 337 CE).
The older version of the Serpent Column was very different than its current shape. There was a golden bowl supported by three serpent heads with open mouths. It is estimated that this bowl on the top of the column was plundered during the Latin Invasion. The names of 31 Greek city states are written on these serpents. The column was 8 meters high at first, but today it is 5.30 meters high and the heads of the serpents are lost. One of these lost heads has been found and exhibited in Istanbul Archeological Museum.
The Column of Goths
The Column is located in Gülhane Park, which used to be the garden of harem of Topkapı Palace. The date of the building is estimated to be in the 4th century. It is one of the oldest monuments left from the Roman Era. Its height is 18.5 meters.
There is a header with eagle relievo on top of the one-piece marble column. The column is named after the Latin passage written on its tablet: “FORTUNAE REDUCI OB DEVICTUS GOTHOS: To Fortuna who returns because of the victory over the Goths.”
As it is understood from this tablet, the victory of Constantine I or Claudius II over the Goths is narrated on the column.
The Cost of an Obelisk to a Nation
Approximately two hundred years ago khedive of Egypt, Kavalalı Mehmet Ali Pasha played a trick on France and England. In the year 1801, near Alexandria there were two columns sculpted by Sesostris in ancient times. One of these columns was lying on the soft sands of the desert, and the other was still standing straight against time. Both of these solid columns were known as the “columns of Cleopatra” because they were taken from their first place where they were in ruins and brought to the temple built by Cleopatra in her name. Two giant stones witnessed to thousands of years.
One day, Kavalalı was visiting the ruins with the senior officers of France and Britain. When they came near to the columns, he asked the generals of both parties:
– Choose one of these two columns.
At that time, France just withdrew from Egypt, and Britain was having new plans over Egypt. That is why both generals chose the standing column for the sake of their states and nations. Yet, Kavalalı made the final decision, and the lying column was decided to be given to the British, and the standing one was for the French. Then Kavalalı stated the following historical words with the natural comfort and confidence of coming from the tradition of a “big state”:
– This is a gift from Devlet-i Aliyye (Ottoman Empire). Take it to your country at once.
What happened then?
British senior officials established a commission and examined the issue of shipment. The shipment of the column to the Britain was going to be a source of pride against French, but the budget did not include enough amount for this shipment. Thereupon a donation fund was established. And an old French battleship was bought with the collected fund. However, the plans were wrong and 250-ton column could never be shipped to the Britain, and the British economy had great loss.
France was just come out of revolution in those years, and the young state wanted to show its power. Charles X of France gave orders to Champollion, the delegate of Egypt, for the shipment of the column. He wanted to adorn the Paris Square with this column. French officers, who took courage from clumsiness of British, took the job seriously. They started to build a special ship in Toulon, and at the same time, they took some precautions in Egypt to enable the shipment of the column. The ship was going to be made from wood, and to have a sailing. Just like the ships of Julius Caesar, August, and Constantine. The column was rectangular parallelepiped, and it was impossible to move it a few meters, let alone the shipment. That is why they began to cover the column as a circle. After months, the column was packed in a wooden cylinder. Now, it was possible to roll it in the desert conditions, and to move it to the Mediterranean via Nile, and finally send to Paris from Seine. And they fulfilled their plans, yet the French suffered many obstacles.
The ship built in Toulon departed with 250 thousand kilos of ballast. It anchored to an appropriate coast of Nile. In order to load a meter of the column to the ship, approximately 10 tons of ballast was unloaded from the ship. However, there was an engineering mistake, and at the end of the loading, the ship went aground. Besides, Nile got shallow because of the ballast unloaded from the ship. Rescuing the ship took 7 months. About a thousand people were employed only for this job for 4 years, and the government budget had deficit for the following seven years. Modernizing France in the 19th century could not be as the Rome or Byzantium of ancient times, because this column, which is still standing upon the ruins of the court in Paris, is shorter than the obelisks in Navona Square in Rome, and Sultanahmet Square in Istanbul (22 meters). (İskender Pala, Tavan Arası, p. 41- 43.)