ISTANBUL: THE BASILICA CISTERN
One of the more impressive sights that we took in during our trip to Istanbul actually was underground. Built in the 6th Century, it is one of the largest Cisterns in Istanbul (hundreds of other cisterns exist beneath the city). During it’s functional years it had supplied water to the First Hill area of Istanbul which includes Topkapi Palace and the Grand Palace of Constantinople. The Cistern had functionally provided water well into the days of the Ottoman Empire and beyond.
After paying a 10 Lira admission fee and descending 52 steps to reach the Cistern the initial challenge was adjusting to the extremely low light conditions but after a minute or two, our eyes adjusted and what we saw was impressive. This mammoth Cistern lays beneath the streets above and has withstood 1500 years of war, conquest, fires, riots and growth of the city and really speaks to the engineering and construction skills of the time. To give you an idea of the scope of the Cistern, here are a few key statistics (courtesy of Wikipedia):
Square Footage: 105,000 sq. ft. (9800 sq. meters)
Capacity: 2,800,000 cu. ft. of water (80,000 cubic meters)
Columns: 336 (marble) / each 9 feet high arranged in 12 rows of 28 columns
Today there is only a little bit of water left, perhaps only a foot or so in depth. What surprised me at first glance into the water is the sheer amount of fish that patrol the Cistern.
The architecture of the columns and the dome ceilings demonstrate the efforts put into the construction. The columns are believed to have been recycled from other ruins from Istanbul and surrounding areas. You’ll notice in some of the photos that the columns are not all identical. It is thought that 7,000 slaves were used to build the Cistern.
One of the most interesting aspects of the Cistern are the two marble blocks with the carving of Medusa’s head that were converted into bases for the columns. As part of the superstition that exists with Medusa and her ability to turn gazers into stone, one blocks were was upside and the other was turned onto it’s side in an attempt to prevent direct eye contact:
Taking decent photographs in near-zero light conditions was a bit challenging. Don’t use a flash, and images can be a bit blurry, use a flash, and you risk washing out the photo. I’ve picked the ones that I think do the best job of illustrating the Cistern and its beauty. Pay close attention to the variety of column designs that were used.
The following picture is of a column thought specifically to have been carved as a memorial to the slaves who built the Cistern. The teardrops are thought to represent the pain and suffering endured by the slaves.
The Basilica Cistern can get very busy and lines can become long especially when tourist groups visit the area. The entrance to the Cistern is only steps away from the Hagia Sophia and Sultan Ahmed (Blue Mosque) and can easily be added to an itinerary that includes visiting these 2 sites. I would suggest planning to spend about an hour in the Cistern (not counting the time it may take to get inside) in order to fully appreciate it.
This is only part of a much larger trip report covering the trip to Istanbul and London. If you would like to be informed of future trip reports, please follow me on twitter: @lufthansaflyer.
Here is the current “index” of the trip report. The one’s with hyperlinks have already been completed:
Istanbul – Sultan Ahmed (Sultanahmet) Mosque.
Istanbul – The Basilica Cistern.
Istanbul – Spice Market and Grand Bazaar.
Istanbul – Park Hyatt Macka Palas.
Istanbul – Our Day with Ihsan (besttaxidriver.com).
Istanbul – Hagia Sophia.
Istanbul – Other Mosques and Churches.
Istanbul – I find out what Zultanite is….
Istanbul – The Food We Found.
Istanbul – Turkish Airlines’ International CIP Lounge.
London – Hyatt Andaz Liverpool Street.
London – Opening of Parliament – Great pictures of the Queen and procession to Parliament.
London – ‘The Sunshine Boys’ at the Savoy Theater (Danny DeVito and Richard Griffiths)…..BRILLIANT, MUST SEE!
London – Spitalfield’s Antique Market – And the lesson I learned.
London – Churchill War Rooms and Churchill Museum.
London – Photos from around town.
London – Dinner at Petrus
London – St. James Park: Feathers and Fur
London – Covent Gardens.
London – All the other things that I can’t think of at the moment….
Pluckley – They said it was haunted……