The Basilica Cistern, which fascinates me with its mystical air, is one of the most special places in Istanbul with its extraordinary structure. While touring the cistern, which is one of the oldest and magnificent structures that have survived from the Byzantine period, you can both increase your history and find peace in its quiet environment.
Information About Basilica Cistern
The Basilica Cistern covers a total area of 9,800 square meters. The cistern, which has a water storage capacity of nearly 100,000 tons, can be descended from a stone ladder with 52 steps. The interior of the building is supported by 336 columns, each 9 meters high and 4.80 meters apart.
Most of these columns, which were added to the structure in 28 rows, including the Medusa Heads, which were the subject of legends, were collected from the structures considered to be old at that time.
Due to this situation that adds variety to the building in terms of architecture, you can easily notice the column heads with Corint and Dor style while visiting the building.
The ceiling of the cistern is supported by arches so that it can carry the weight. Horasan Mortar was poured in a very thick way to ensure the waterproofing of its base built using bricks and its 4.80 meter thick walls.
The magnificent cistern, which is 140 meters long and 70 meters wide, is also known as the “Basilica Cistern” because of its old religious structure.
When talking about its huge structure compared to its congeners, the use of the name “Basilica Palace”, which is the source of its columnar structure, is also quite common.
Basilica Cistern History
Built in 532 by the Byzantine Emperor Justinianus, the cistern was used to meet the water needs of the Grand Palace.
During the construction process, water was provided to the gigantic building, where 7,000 slaves were employed, through 2 arches that extend to the Eğrikapı Su Taksim Center in the Belgrad Forests, 19 kilometers from the city. 971, built by Emperor Valens from these arches, was 116 meters long, built by the order of the Emperor Justinian.
After the city passed under Ottoman rule in 1453, the cistern continued to be used for a short time in order to meet the water needs of the gardens in Topkapı Palace. However, when the idea that it was contrary to Islamic rules became widespread in the Ottomans, the use of the structure was abandoned.
The discovery of the Dutch P. Gyllius, who came to Istanbul between 1544and 1550 to investigate the Byzantine ruins, caused the building, which was abandoned to its fate after the Ottomans set up their own systems, gained fame among the Westerners.
The cistern, whose reputation gradually increased after the explorer explained the information about the building in his travel book, underwent 2 major renovations during the Ottoman period. The first of these studies III. During the period when Ahmet was on the throne, under the leadership of Mehmet Ağa from Kayseri, the second study was carried out by II. It was carried out in the time of Abdulhamit.
As a result of an accident that occurred during a construction work in the region between 1955 and 1960, there was a danger of breaking in 8 columns from the northeastern wall of the building. The traces of this event, where the columns are covered with a thick layer of concrete, are still clearly visible.
The cistern, which is the frequent destination of cultural tours, was added during the cleaning and restoration works carried out in 1987 within the municipality. Since then, the cistern, which was opened to the public, hosts artistic events as well as tours.
Important Sections to be Seen in the Basilica Cistern
The most interesting part of the cistern is Medusa Heads, which are placed under the two columns in the northwest corner for support.
Despite various researches, the structure of these column heads, which cannot be determined from which structure they were brought here, has not been delayed in the formation of legends based on Greek mythology as their popularity has increased over time.
According to the most famous of these legends, Medusa was one of the most beautiful women of ancient times with her jet black eyes and long hair. Medusa, who had love with Zeus’ son, the demigod Perseus, was sentenced to an eternal curse by jealous Athena.
While Medusa’s long hair turned into a snake as she did not have any beauty from the wrath of Athena, her gaze started turning the stone to the men who dare to look at her.
According to another rumor, it is believed that the purpose of putting Medusa Heads here is to protect that area. In this version of the story, it is mentioned that the mythological entity is one of the 3 female monsters in the underworld.
Another section that I think you might be interested in during your Basilica Cistern trip is the column decorated with various carvings and reliefs. It was previously believed that this column, with teardrop-shaped patterns on it, represented hundreds of slaves who died during the construction of the building.