Chamberlitash in Istanbul is a square located on the site where the ancient Forum of Emperor Constantine was located. Of all the buildings of this complex, only the column of Constantine partially survived. This column has long been considered the main symbol of the Byzantine Empire. It was built by decree of Emperor Constantine on May 11, 330 AD in honor of his conquest of the Byzantium on September 18, 324 AD and during the celebrations and on the occasion of the proclamation of the new capital of the Roman Empire – Constantinople. From the very beginning, it was a pedestal for the statue of the emperor. This column was the central element in the grandiose square, where the colonnade, statues of Christian saints and pagan gods were also placed.
Currently, it is called “Chamberlitash” (which translates as “Rock with hoops”). The only drawing of this column that has survived and has come down to our times dates from 1574 and is stored in the library of Holy Trinity College in the English city of Cambridge. You can get to the building if you walk from Sultanahmet Square towards the Great Istanbul Bazaar and Beyazet Square along Divan Yolu Street.
It was built in the center of the Forum of Constantine, which at the same time was built on the second city hill, just behind the defensive walls of old Byzantium. Then this forum was an oval-shaped square, surrounded by an impressive marble colonnade, which had two monumental gates facing the west and east of the city. It was decorated with many beautiful antique statues, the location of which is now impossible to determine.
The column is made in the form of a truncated regular four-stage pyramid and built on a five-meter base made of porphyry. On it was a column chair, having a square shape and decorated with a bas-relief. The trunk, which had a height of twenty-five meters, consisted of seven drums, the diameter of which was about three meters. The drums were covered with metal hoops with gilded bronze wreaths. All drums were also porphyry, except for the eighth – it was made of marble. The majestic building is crowned with a marble capital. A golden imperial statue in the form of the god Apollo was put on the abacus of the capital, with a nail from the Cross of the Son of God fused into it. For this reason, the inhabitants of the city of Constantinople initially began to call this architectural monument the “Nail Column”. The height of the monument was about 38 meters.
During the earthquake of 600-601, which occurred at the end of the reign of Emperor Mauritius, the statue of Constantine the Great collapsed, and the column itself was badly damaged. It was completely restored during the reign of Emperor Heraclius (610-641), and in 1081-1118, under Emperor Alexei I, the statue again fell to the ground from a lightning strike and crushed several passers-by. The monument was restored only during the reign of Emperor Manuel I (1143-1180), but soon another statue collapsed, and it was replaced by a cross. After this event, the monument received a new colloquial name – “Column with the Cross.” Later, after 1204, this building suffered quite a bit from the actions of the crusaders. Its foundation was weakened by an tunnel, which was dug in order to search for relics, and the bas-relief was removed and taken to Western Europe. At the present time, part of it, which the Turks call “Tetrarchs”, was immured in the wall of St. Mark’s Cathedral in Venice.
Already in the second half of the 20th century, during the archaeological excavations carried out in Constantinople, the missing element of the bas-relief was found, which is currently stored in the archaeological museum of Istanbul. After the fall of Constantinople, which occurred in the first days of June 1453, the Turks dropped the cross from this column.
In 1779, a strong fire that occurred in the vicinity of the square destroyed most of the buildings, and after that the column was left with black spots from the fire. The column was named the “Burned Column” after this event. By order of Sultan Abdulhamid I, Chamberlitash was restored and a new laying of the foundation was made on it. The iron hoops were replaced with new ones. This made it possible to keep the column upright in subsequent centuries. The first base of the column was located about 3 meters below the current level. This means that the column, which is presented today for viewing by tourists, is, in fact, only a part of the original structure.
Haluk Egemen Sarikaya, a Turkish parapsychologist, wrote about this column in one of his works: “Like any sacred building, Chamberlitash is probably connected with the underground system of the region.” Confirmation of these words was found in the 1930s during archaeological excavations in the vicinity of the Column of Constantine, during which vestibules made in the form of a labyrinth were discovered. Hence the belief that Chamberlitash is a kind of gate, providing access to the underground galleries of Istanbul.