Underground Cistern / Basilica Cistern

The Underground Cistern built by Emperor Justinianus in 532 is also known as the Basilica Cistern because it is under the Stoa Basilica. The Cistern is 140 m long, and the width is 70 m. It is an enormous structure covering a rectangular area. There are 336 columns, and each is 9 meters in height. These columns, erected at 4.80 meters distance from each other, and form 28 rows in each row. These columns rising in the water remind an immense forest and affect the visitor as soon as they enter the Cistern.

The ceiling weight of the Underground Cistern is cruciform. The vaults are transferred to the columns using arches. Most of which are understood to have been collected from older structures and carved from the granite of various types of marble, most of them consist of one piece, and some of them are two pieces in a row. The titles of these columns have different features in places. While 98 of them reflect the Corinth style, some of them reflect the style of Dor. The Cistern consists of bricks, 4.80 m. thick walls and brick floor ground were plastered with a thick layer from Horasan mortar and made waterproof. This Cistern, with a total area of ​​9,800 square meters, has a water storage capacity of approximately 100,000 tons.

Underground Cistern
Underground Cistern

Water Source of a Great City

The water of the Cistern, in which 7,000 slaves worked, was built by Emperor Valens (368) in 971 m. the length of Valens (Bozdogan) and 115.45 m constructed by the emperor Justinianus. 19 km from the city with the help of the Maglova Aqueduct. The vast majority of the columns in the Cistern are cylindrical, except for a few of them in angular or grooved form. It is especially striking that the decoration of the peacock eye, drooping branch, and teardrop shapes is carved and embossed in these columns. This column was named “Farum Tauri” during the Byzantine era, and today the ruins of Beyazıt Square IV. YY. It is similar to the columns in the triumphal arch of Theodosius (379-395).

Underground Cistern and the Tear Column

According to a rumor, the reason it resembles tears tells about the hundreds of slaves who died during the construction of the Underground Cistern 30 m long. The part, seen as an irregular protrusion in width, is the walls built during the repairs made in the past, centuries to bear the weight. Forty columns in total, nine columns in the longest part and two columns in the narrowest part, are not seen because they are behind these walls.

Two Medusa heads, which are used as a pedestal under two columns in the northwest corner of the Cistern, are one of the masterpieces of Roman Art. The 4th century BC, which the visitors of the Cistern watched in amazement. Although there is no specific information about which building these heads were taken and brought here, we believe that they were removed from an ancient building belonging to the Young Roman Period and brought here.

Medusa Heads

Many rumors about Medusa based on mythology makes the Underground Cistern even more mysterious. According to a story, Medusa is one of three Gorgons, the female monster of the underworld in Greek Mythology. Of these three sisters, only Snake Head Medusa is positive. And he has the power to turn his ministers into stone. Some historians believe that the pictures and sculptures of the Gorgona heads would be there at that time to protect large buildings and private places from evil, and Medusa was placed here with this in mind.

According to another rumor, Medusa is a girl who boasts black eyes, long hair, and a beautiful body. She loves Perseus, the son of the Greek god Zeus. Goddess Athena also loves Perseus and is jealous of Medusa. Athena puts Medusa’s hair into scary snakes. Now whoever Medusa looks at, anyone she looks will turn to the stone. Perseus thinks that Medusa is fascinated and cuts her head and takes part in the wars by taking the cut head in her hand. Those who see the head would turn into stones, and Perseus wins battles.

After this incident, Medusa is said to have been worked upside down and side to the sword hilt and column bases in the old Byzantine. According to another rumor, Medusa saw herself in the sword of Perseus, and she immediately turned to stone. For this reason, the sculptor who made the statue here made Medusa in three different positions, as usual, reverse, and side according to the reflection positions of the light. Medusa’s head, which is in the normal position, was brought from Didim.

Underground Cistern and the Ottomans

The Ottomans used the Underground Cistern for a while after the conquest of Istanbul in 1453. They mainly used the water for the gardens of the Topkapi Palace, where the sultans lived. The Ottomans, because of the religious and cultural reasons, preferred to use running water instead of stored water. It was discovered by the Dutch traveler P. Gyllius who came to Istanbul in 1544-1550 to investigate the Byzantine ruins. Underground Cistern has undergone various repairs since its establishment.

The first restoration of the Cistern was during the period of the Ottoman Empire in the 18th century. It was built in the time of Ahmet (M 1723) by Architect Kayserili Mehmet Aga. The second major repair in the 19th century was during Sultan Abdulhamit II (1876-1909). The most significant restoration in the Republic period was started in 1985 by Istanbul Municipality. With the removal of 50,000 tons of mud and building the excursion platform in it, it was completed on September 9, 1987, and opened to visitors again.

The Underground Cistern is open to visitors every day between 09.00 – 17.30.

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Umit Yildirim