Introduction     Topography     Churches     Hagia Sophia

The imperiial buildings and monuments
  Statues and monuments, celebrating the imperial public image, adorned the fora. A porphyry column supporting the statue of Apollo-Helios provided the focal point for the Forum Constantini . Another column with spiral decoration, modeled after those of Trajan and Marcus Aurelius in Rome, adorned the Forum Tauri, which was laid out in the reign of Theodosios I (379-395). Close to it stood an arch, supported on sets of four columns each, their shafts decorated with drop-shaped eyes' imitating the trunks of cypresses. The Philadelphion was ornamented with two porphyry columns supporting carved groups of Constantine's sons (such as the so-called Tetrarchs now in the Piazza San Marco, Venice). Another spiral column stood in the Forum Arcadii, its pedestal preserved to this day. An equestrian statue of Justinian was set up on top of a column in the Augustaion square, south of St Sophia .
  Amusement was essential to the life of the capital. Chariot races and theatre plays were immensely popular. The theatre was open from noon till evening, and staged pantomime, which involved dancing, music and some nudity, and, occasionally, a play of more traditional (antique) type. Chariot races were financed by consuls and organised by the capital's sports' associations, namely the Blues, the Greens, the Whites and the Reds. They were staged in the hippodrome, a vast structure consisting of tiers of seats arranged in hairpin form. Here, the arena was divided by a low wall (spina) supporting an assortment of statues and obelisks; at the centre of the spina stood the obelisk of Theodosios I, the marble base of which represented the emperor and his court attending the games. The imperial box (kathisma), in the middle of the southeast wing, was a two-storeyed structure connected to the palace. Besides providing amusement, the hippodrome was a focus for imperial ceremony and the place par excellence where the emperor met his subjects.
  The Great Palace, the imperial residence down to the eleventh century, consisted of a number of halls, pavillions and churches, connected by galleries, and separated by gardens. It featured a monumental vestibule, the Chalke, opening on to the Mese, to the southeast of St Sophia . The palace's residential wing, the Daphne, communicated with the imperial box in the hippodrome . A magnificent sixth-century floor mosaic, the only surviving example of secular mosaic decoration in Constantinople, adorns one of the courtyards: fighting animals, bucolic and hunting scenes, are set against a plain white ground, bordered by foliage scrolls inhabited by birds animals and masks. The palace possessed its own harbor and was protected by walls. The private palaces of Hormisdas, Antiochus and Lausus lay in proximity.
  North of the Great Palace were the public baths of Zeuxippus, lavishly decorated with statues. This, and many other bathing establishments, were frequented by men, women, children, and members of the clergy. The water supply was guaranteed by a network of aqueducts and cisterns, such as the enormous open-air cisterns of Aetius (421), Aspar (459), and St Mocius (attributed to Anastasios I, 491-518), or the covered Cisterna Basilica and Binbir Direk cistern, both of which date from Justinian's reign.

See also: Urban planning; Sculpture; Architectural Sculpture