Divan Yolu, the “Road to the Imperial Council,” was once the imperial road from Constantinople to Rome (map). It takes its Turkish name from Ottoman times, when it was in fact the “Road to the Imperial Council” (Divan) in Topkapı Palace.
When it was laid out by Constantine the Great in the early 300s AD, Divan Yolu (dee-VAHN yoh-loo) was the Mese, the main boulevard leading from the city center on Seraglio Point to the Golden Gate in the city walls, where it met the road to Rome.
The beginning-point of the Mese was marked by the Milion, a grand monumental structure called a tetrapylon (“four-tower”): four towers at the corners of a square footing, topped by a dome.
The Milion was apparently razed in the 15th century, but remnants of it were discovered in the 1960s, and a short marble shaft was re-erected at the northeastern end of Sultanahmet Square in the little park above the Basilica Cistern (Yerebatan Sarnıçı) (map).
Divan Yolu is now the main avenue through historic Old Istanbul, starting at Sultanahmet Square and the Hippodrome and heading westward to Beyazıt Square and the Grand Bazaar. The road changes names as it goes, becoming Yeniçeriler Caddesi (“Avenue of the Janissaries”) through Beyazıt Square, then Ordu Caddesi (“Army Avenue”) to Aksaray Square.
Under different names the road continues out to the city walls, through a gate, and on toward Rome, a thousand miles (1600 km) away.
For visitors, Divan Yolu (dee-VAHN yoh-loo) is their main street from Sultanahmet and the Hippodrome past shops and restaurants, past Ottoman sultans’ tombs, mosques and medreses (theological schools), past Byzantine forums and monuments such as Çemberlitaş (the Burnt Column) to Beyazıt Square, the Grand Bazaar and Istanbul University.
The Bağcılar-Kabataş tram goes along Divan Yolucarrying visitors between the ferry dock at Kabataş, through Karaköy, across the Galata Bridge, through Sultanahmet and its Hippodrome, to the Grand Bazaar, then onward to Zeytinburnu, where there’s a connection to Istanbul‘s Metro to take you to Atatürk Airport and the Otogar (main bus terminal).
—by Tom Brosnahan