15-06-2019 - Museums

History of Basilica Cistern

The Basilica Cistern, located southwest of Hagia Sophia, is one of Istanbul's best tourist attractions. As one can see from the underground marble columns, this large underground water reservoir was installed for Justinianus I, the Byzantium Emperor (527-565), and is known to the public as the "Yerebatan Cistern'' Since there used to be a basilica on the site of the cistern, it's now known as Basilica Cistern.


The Basilica was a Roman cathedral. The Cisterna Basilica, also known as the Cistern, is the largest of several hundred ancient cisterns in Istanbul, Turkey. The cistern, which is 150 meters (490 feet) southwest of Hagia Sophia on the historical peninsula of Sarayburnu, was built in the 6th century during the reign of Byzantine Emperor Justinian I. It is now stored with only a small amount of water inside the space for public access. When you visit Istanbul, pay a visit to the Basilica Cistern, which holds a significant position among Istanbul's historical sites.


The cistern is a huge structure that occupies a rectangular area, measuring 140 meters long and 70 meters wide. There are 336 9-meter-high columns in the Cistern, which can be accessed with a 52-step staircase. The columns are spaced at 4.80 m intervals and are made up of 12 rows of 28 columns each. The case-bay of the cistern is transported over arches by the columns. The rest of the columns are made up of a single piece, with the exception of one that is made up of two pieces. The bulk of the columns are believed to have been sculpted out of various styles of marbles and gathered from ancient sites in Istanbul.


The heads of these columns have a variety of patterns. The Corinthian style is used in 98 of them, while the Dorian style is used in the remaining ones. For water resistance, the cistern's walls are 4.80 meters thick, and the floor is bricked and plastered with a dense layer of brick dust mortar. The cistern covers a total area of 9,800 square meters and can hold 100,000 tons of water.


Medusa Heads in Basilica Cistern

In the northwest corner of the cistern, the bases of two columns are made of blocks engraved with Medusa's profile. The two heads' sources are unclear, although they are thought to have been transferred to the cistern after being removed from a late Roman structure. There is no written documentation that they were used as column pedestals in the past. The blocks are claimed to be twisted and angled sideways to deflect the Gorgons' gaze; however, it's commonly thought that one was oriented sideways only to be the correct size to hold the column. The upside-down Medusa was mounted that way so she would be the same height right-side up as the usual Medusa. This mythological building definitely deserves a visit during your Istanbul vacation.


According to legend, 7,000 slaves were used in the construction of the cistern. The enlarged cistern served as a water filtration plant for Constantinople's Great Palace and other First Hill residences, and it continued to provide water to the Topkapi Palace after the Ottoman conquest in 1453 and into modern times.


According to ancient sources, the basilica had gardens that were surrounded by a colonnade which faced the Hagia Sophia. Emperor Constantine built a structure that was later rebuilt and enlarged by Emperor Justinian following the 532 Nika riots, which devastated the city.


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