From Delphi to Constantinople

Last week, I joined an archaeological trip to Greece, and I was so excited to see the base of the Serpent Column at the temple of Apollo at Delphi, which is now at the Hippodrome (Sultanahmet Meydanı) of Istanbul.

A view of the temple of Apollo from the theatre of Delphi

Heredotus  describes a golden tripod balanced on a three-headed bronze snake which was made for Apollo with a tithe of the spoils from the Greek victory at Plataia. 

Pausanias notes that the Phokaians later removed the golden tripod but left the bronze Serpent Column itself. Later, it was removed to Constantinople in the fourth century A.D. A vertical inscription on the coils naming the Greek cities that fought at Plataia has not been easily discernible in recent years. In the late byzantine time only the three snakes remained that formerly had supported the bowl in the middle. The Column of the Snakes, as it was called now, survived until the Ottoman times, the heads of the snakes were broken off only around 1700. Upper jaw of one of the snake heads is now in Istanbul Archeology Museum.

 The base of the Serpent Column & the Tripod

“When all the booty had been brought together, a tenth of the whole was set apart for the Delphian god (Apollo); and hence was made the golden tripod which stands on the bronze serpent with the three heads, quite close to the altar” Herodotus, The Histories (IX.81, also VIII.27)


The bronze Serpent Column, one of the head of the snakes and its reconstruction at the Hippodrome of Istanbul 

The illustration is from “The Book of the Festival” (Surname-i Hümayun) and shows musicians performing in the Hippodrome at the circumcision festival of Prince Mehmed in 1582. The manuscript, itself, is in the Topkapi Palace Museum

Guilds  in front of the Sultan in the Hippodrome


3 thoughts on “From Delphi to Constantinople

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  1. I love seeing the serpent column and the illustrations from Topkapi Palace. The illustrations are so interesting. Thank you for reminding me of them.

  2. Thank you, Sevil! I remember the serpent column well but how wonderful to have it put in context with pictures and all! I loved traveling with you and hope to do so again.

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