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Serpentine Column (Yilanli Sutun)


Serpentine Column (Yilanli Sutun): The Serpentine Column is one of the oldest monuments in İstanbul. Having twenty nine spirals, the bronze column was built using bronze from the melted down weapons of Persians who died in the battle of Salamis and Plataea, where thirty one Greek cities won victories over the Persians in 479 BC.

The column base, on which the Spartan King Pausanias had only his name inscribed as victorious after the war, was changed by removing the inscription and replacing it in the Phokis alphabet with the names of all the cities involved in the war.

The names of those thirty one cities were written on the body of the column with Phokis alphabet and those names deciphered by Otto Frick and Philipp Anton in 1856. The height of the column was originally 8 m but the current height is about 5.5 m. It is part of an ancient Greek sacrificial tripod, originally located in Delphi and brought to Constantinople by Constantine I the Great in 324 AD. Indeed the monument was the base of the Delphi Tripod which stood in front of the Apollo Temple. Most probably, the Delphi Tripod lost before the monument was brought to İstanbul.

According to Pausanias, the tripod was taken by soldiers from Phokis when they occupied Delphi in 353 BC before it was finally brought to Constantinople

We know from the memoirs of Petrus Gyllius that the monument had the heads of the interwined snakes until the 16th century. According to a book called ‘Nusretname’ written by Chief Armourer Fındıklılı Mehmet Ağa, a drunken Polish diplomat cut off the heads of the serpents on the 20th of November 1700.

The last painting, in which the column is depicted with three snake heads, belonged to the traveller called A. de la Motraye and was painted in 1699. Upon his return to the Hippodrome in 1710, Motraye found that all the snake heads had been smashed and claimed that they had been destroyed on May 5, 1700 by the people working for Viniava Lesczynski, the Polish Ambassador, who was accommodated near the Horse Square on the very same date.

While one of the three heads is in the İstanbul Archaeology Museums and the second is exhibited in the British Museum, the third one is missing. The head which displays now was found by Gaspar Fossati in 1848.

The first person to excavate around the column in 1855 was the archaeologist Charles Newton, who was working for the British Museum. When the flumes were discovered around the column in the second excavation, it was understood that it had been transformed into a fountain in the late period. Travellers such as Cristoforo Buondelmonti and Pero Tayfur, who visited the city thirty years before the conquest, wrote exaggerated descriptions that the monument had been used as a fountain before their arrival in the city. In addition, the column was believed to have been a talisman protecting the city from snakes since the Byzantine period.