Translated by Aylin Oymak
Photo: Efe Sönmez

Being the capital of many civilizations, which left considerable traces in the history, such as East- Roman Empire, Byzantine Empire and Ottoman Empire, Istanbul has various mythological and fantastic notions. The most outstanding ones of these notions are the talismanic obelisks, built on seven hills of the city.

It was believed that the talismanic obelisks had functions to guard people living in the city, to give a happy life, and to provide abundance and fertility. After conquest of Istanbul, religion system of the city was changed and Muslim community saw these obelisks as “superstitious monuments”. Hence the obelisks, which were not restored and many of which were devastated, have been one of the most prominent components of Istanbul’s legends. Being able to survive as they are today, the obelisks hold overtones of old-Istanbul.

“The Talismanic Obelisks Are Representatives of Pagan Gods”

“According to Paganism, the obelisks were built to be devoted to Gods in order to beg for God’s help” says Assist. Prof. Dr. Ferhat Aslan of Istanbul University, Faculty of Letters, Head Department of Turkish Folk Literature, Department of Turkish Language and Literature. He states that the talismanic obelisks should be seen as representatives of Pagan Gods if they are concerned in a historical context of Istanbul.

“Religion and rituals have a prominent role in folk-culture. These notions, born out of religious and magical belief, have on-going effects on the community nowadays” highlights Assist. Prof. Dr. Ferhat Aslan. Besides, he remarks that old-belief in the talismanic obelisks carries on with stones that are believed to have spiritual effects on people in modern-day and thus used as accessories.

Upon emphasizing that the obelisks are erected in Ley Lines, which have high yield energy, and they are located in culture-centered ancient cities, Assist. Prof. Dr. Ferhat Aslan adds “the talismanic obelisks bear the name of reigning emperors of their construction period. After the conquest of Istanbul, the obelisks are named according to their functions and forms. These classifications are made by Evliya Celebi who is an eminent traveler of Ottoman Empire and renders the classifications of the obelisks in his famous travel book ‘Seyahatname’.‘’

“When the obelisks were built, on top of some obelisks there were sculptures. As Evliya Celebi quotes in ‘Seyahatname’ after then the conquest of Istanbul, these sculptures were devastated” says Assist. Prof. Dr. Ferhat Aslan. Additionally he touches upon the fact that after Ottoman culture becomes prevalent in Istanbul, the talismanic obelisks exist in folk-legends yet they have not due importance at all.

Kıztaşı - 4

Column Of Marcian(Kıztaşı)-Revealer of Forbidden Relationships

In 455 B.C. Column of Marcian was erected to be dedicated to Emperor Marcian. It is called in Turkish as Kıztaşı (kız: “girl” + taş: “stone”)because in view of some legends, it was believed that if young ladies and married women, who passed by the stone, committed sin, namely, without acceptance of their parents they had forbidden relationships with men, the stone instantly would bend and reveal their hidden sin.

Dikilitaş - 6

Fairness of Trade – Obelisk of Theodosius

With regard to some legends at the center of Hippodrome, right in front of the obelisk there was a brazen sculpture of a man which was immersed in aqua regia and named as ‘Faith’. Tradesmen paid cash in hand of the sculpture and when the sculpture closed his palm of hand, it was believed that determined cost of goods purchased was fair.

Çemberlitaş - 2

Holy Chalice of Jesus Christ is under Çemberlitaş Column, namely Column of Constantine

In Turkish, it is called as Çemberlitaş which means hooped stone (çemberli: “hooped” + taş: “stone”). Located in Çemberlitaş, being one of the seven hills of Istanbul, Çemberlitaş Column was erected in honor of Roman Emperor, Constantine the Great in 330 B.C. It was believed that the holy chalice of Jesus Christ which he used for the last time before his death, and many sacred wares belonging to Christ were in secret underground chambers of the Çemberlitaş Column. It is also known as Burnt Stone because it was devastated in a great fire broken out in Ottoman epoch. After then it was hooped during the restoration in order to strengthen base of the column. Today the underground chambers keep their mystery alive.

Yılanlı sütun - 2

Serpent Column Erected by Surende Protects Istanbul from Serpents

In order to get rid of some certain poisonous animals such as serpents, scorpions, etc. in Hippodrome what is now Horse Square of Sultanahmet, Surende- an eminent philosopher of King Pozantine’s epoch- erected a wreathed column, which consisted of three headed dragon or serpent, was made of bronze and at a height of nearly six meters. As the time went by, the belief that poisonous and frightening animals within Istanbul could not inhabit in the city arose and become prevalent.

Rumor has it that Selim the second beaten one of the serpent’s heads with his mace and the head’s jaw, looking at west part of the city, was crushed thus it was told that serpents appeared and become widespread at the west part of the city. It is still believed that if another head of the serpent or dragon is damaged, Istanbul again will be infested by serpents.