44 CONSTANTINOPLE AND ITS ENVIRONS,*
THE AT-MEIDAN, OR HIPPODROME; AND MOSQUE OF ACHMET.
The word meidan signifies " a place," and corresponds with the sense in which we
use the latter term in our towns. There are many so called in Constantinople, but the
most distinguished is the At-meidan, or " Place of the Horse." It was, under the Greek
empire, called Hippodrome, which implies a horse-course. The Turks applied it to
the same purpose, and translated the Greek appellation into their own language. It is
described in the most gorgeous manner by the writers of the lower empire, as ornamented with marble colonnades, and surrounded by seats like an amphitheatre, where
the courses were observed by the spectators. These things have disappeared under the
Turks, and it is now a naked oblong area, with a very ruinous and neglected aspect. It
has, however, still its attractions. It is almost the only open and airy public space within
the walls of the city, and it is the only spot where the very few ornaments of this great
capital, now extant, are to be seen in their original site and form.
The present area is an irregular quadrangle, about 260 yards long, and 150 wide.
It is bounded on one side by the mosque of Sultan Achmet, from which it is separated
only by'an open screen, and from it this beautiful edifice, with its six elegant minarets,
appears to the greatest advantage. On the others, by large but mean edifices, one of
which is the menagerie of the Turkish empire. Among the gifts expected from the
pasha of a distant province, are specimens of its wild animals; and lions, tigers, and
other beasts are here enclosed and exhibited, as formerly in the tower of London.
Among the animals here in the time of Busbequius, was an extraordinary elephant,
which, he affirmed, " could dance and play ball." They are not confined to cages, but
allowed to walk about in large caverns, where the solitary magnificence of the animal
would be strikingly exhibited, were it not that the foul odour exhaled from putrid offals,
on which they feed, repels a stranger with insuperable disgust.
Down the centre are seen the splendid remains of the Greek empire. The first is
the granite obelisk, still in high preservation, brought from the Thebaid to Rome, and
from thence to ornament the new city of Constantine. It is supported on brazen globes,
resting on a sculptured pedestal bearing an inscription implying that it was erected
by Theodosius. On one face is sculptured the machines by which the obelisk was
raised to its present site, and is a curious display of the mechanical powers at that
time in use. A singular circumstance occurred at its erection, which has since that time
furnished an extraordinary auxiliary to mechanical powers. When the ponderous block
was raised as high as the combination of cords and pulleys could draw it, it was found to
want one inch of elevation to place it on the pedestal. The emperor and all the spectators supposed the labour and expense lost, and the case hopeless; when the ingenious
artist who had undertaken to raise it, caused water to be thrown upon the cords by
which the obelisk was suspended: an immediate contraction of the fibres took place, the
cords shortened, and the immense weight was quietly raised to its place without any