ISTANBUL HARBORS A LITTLE-KNOWN SECRET THAT IS OFTEN OVERLOOKED IN THE HUSTLE AND BUSTLE OF DAILY LIFE AND ON THE USUAL BLITZ CITY TOURS: THE “MILION STONE”, WHICH WAS THE CENTER OF THE CITY, INDEED OF THE WORLD, IN THE BYZANTINE PERIOD.
The Roman Forum was the focal point of the Mediterranean world in the golden age of the Roman Empire. And smack dab at the center of it was a stone called the “lapis niger” or black stone, which was regarded as the zero point of the world. The magnificent roads that were the pride of Rome and unique symbols of its power started from the lapis niger, crossing Italy and Albania to Istanbul and stretching from there as far as Anatolia, Syria and Central Asia beyond. The autobahns of antiquity, these roads transported people, culture and art as well as soldiers. When Constantine was crowned emperor of Byzantium in the 3rd century A.D., Istanbul became the Roman capital, and a monumental structure erected near the Byzantine Palace became the center of the world. Only a small portion remains today of that building: the “Milion stone”.
ISTANBUL VANQUISHES ROME
Keen to build the new Rome at Istanbul, the Emperor Constantine could not leave the center of the world in Rome. Declaring Istanbul his capital, he had a monumental building erected, a tetrapylon (a cubical structure with a gate onTyche each facade), directly opposite the Byzantine Palace, thereby putting an end to the ongoing struggle with Western Rome. A sacred stone brought from Jerusalem, which was believed the Prophet Jesus had touched on, was positioned in the middle of the monument. From that time on, it became the zero point for all measurements! All maps drawn showed distances as measured from the Milion. Be transported all over the world now where is.
WHAT DID IT LOOK LIKE?
The monument around the Milion, only a small portion of which survives today, was built as a tetrapylon and surmounted by a dome adorned with images of the sky and stars. At the base of the building was a statue of, very probably, Constantine himself and a bust of his mother, Helena, as well as, immediately adjacent to them, a statue of Tyche, who was believed to guard the city. The location of the Milion was also significant. Situated next to a square known as the Forum of Augustus, it was the starting point of the colonnaded Mese, the main thoroughfare that ran as far as today’s Çemberlitaş. With the Hagia Sophia on one side and equestrian statues of the Byzantine emperors on the other, it stood, representing the zero point of the world, on the same square with the Hippodrome and the Byzantine Palace.
Asst. Prof. Dr. Alessandra Ricci, Koç University
Istanbul as conceived and planned by Constantine was not a conventional Christian city. Challenging Rome, Constantine was keen to found a new city all his own and therefore he began building Nova Roma, the “New Rome”. Rome was his only rival, and he did not in any case regard Istanbul as a classical monolithic city. A map found at Vienna showing the Roman roads is an important artifact. We are fortunate to be able to discern two important symbols of Istanbul on its extant fragments, known as the Tabula Peutingeriana: the city’s patron goddess, Tyche, and her obelisk at Çemberlitaş. This map demonstrates the importance of the Milion, insofar as the distances shown on the map are measured from the stone.
TETRAPYLON IN ARCHITECTURE
Celaleddin Çelik, Architect
The tetrapylon - the term is a compound derived from the Greek tetra (four) and pylon (column) - is a type of ancient Roman monument with four large arches and a gate in each facade. Usually erected at the intersection of two main roads to emphasize its significance as a geographical center, tetrapylons were at the same time aesthetically pleasing structures symbolizing convergence and continuity with doors opening in four directions. The intersection of two straight lines or pieces of wood had been a potent symbol in any case from the pre-Christian era right up to the Latin cross, and the notion of the “four-square” has been the basis of building plans and spaces throughout the history of architecture. As a legacy of antiquity, tetrapylons were a variation on the Roman triumphal arch.