The Basilica Cistern | Istanbul, Turkey

For this blog we travel back to the Eastern Roman Empire circa the 6th century AD.  The Basilica Cistern was constructed during the reign of  the Byzantium Emperor Justinianus I, who sought to restore the Roman Empire to its former glory.  Back then Istanbul was called Constantinople, for the famous Roman Emperor, Constantine the Great.

The location had prior been the home of a Basilica and large town square, which is how its current name is derived.  It is located right next to Hagia Sophia.  The cistern is 140 m long, and 70 m wide, and contains a total of 336 columns.  The cistern has seen many renovations and cleanings over the centuries, with the last renovation taking place in 1994.[src] 

If you make it to Istanbul and love history and ancient architecture, I highly recommend visiting this site.

1-2: The famous medusa head columns. Myths abound as to the purpose of these two heads, and whether their positioning holds any significance. Many scholars believe they were simply the right size to get the job done. The more superstitious believe they heads were positioned in such a way to avert the unlucky gaze of the medusa.

3: One of the more decorative column bases. Many of the columns such as this one have steel bands installed for reinforcement.

4-5: One of the few decorated columns in the Cistern, called the Hen’s Eye Column. It is claimed the tear design of the column was created to commemorate the 7,000 slaves who died building the cistern[src].

6: The cistern contains multiple column types, including 98 Corinthian columns, such as those in the foreground of this photo. Corinthian columns have elaborate decorations, such as leaves, flowers, and scrolls.[src] These columns are thought to have been recycled from ancient Greek structures.

In this photo you can get a good idea how the roof maintains its stability. The bricked ceiling is both arched and vaulted. Additional concrete, iron cross supports, and steel bands were installed in modern day to add stability.

7: In addition to the Corinthian columns, the cistern contains numerous Doric columns. Compared to their Corinthian counterparts, Doric columns are of simple design.[src] Most of the columns themselves were smooth, and didn’t have the fluting you would expect on either type of column.

One of the many wooden walkways crosses the photo. The water is kept very shallow in present day, and the walkways ensure visitors are kept dry.

8: The cistern covers an area of 9,800 sqm in total, and has an estimated water storage capacity of 100,000 tons. [src] When standing at one end, it is difficult to see the opposite wall in the dim light. I can’t imagine what this giant cavity in the earth must have been like when filled with water. If it still was, this would be a great place to scuba dive.

9: The Cistern is home to schools of fish. Apparently the Romans were keen on introducing fish into their cisterns to ensure the water was safe for drinking and not poisioned [src]. It is not clear if these particular fish are ancestors of those, but they do a great job of keeping the water clean nevertheless.

10: In case you’re interested in grabbing the snack within the musty ambiance, the Cistern Cafe has got you covered!

Thanks for dropping by! I hope that you enjoyed my travel photos and commentary, and will return for more travel content in the future.

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