The Basilica Cistern – Istanbul
If you’re in the vicinity of Hagia Sophia, one of the magnificent Istanbul attractions not to be missed is the Basilica Cistern. Situated near the south-west of Hagia Sophia, this massive cistern was founded by Justinian (527 – 565) primarily to supply water to the palaces in the area.
Also known as Yerebatan Sarayı , the name Basilica Cistern originates from a basilica which originally stood on the grounds of the cistern. The entrance is non-descript, but once you descend the stone steps, and after your eyes adjust to the darkness, you’ll see an impressive forest of columns arranged in rows. This atmospheric place really has the ‘wow’ factor and it’s no wonder that James Bond played out one of his action scenes in From Russian with Love in the Cistern.
There are 336 columns, each 9 metres high and 4.8 metres apart and they’re arranged in 12 rows of 28 columns each. Majority of these columns are composed of one piece whereas some are made up of two pieces. Walk along the platforms and you’ll see columns with engravings of various types on them. They appear to have been taken from older buildings. The capitals of these columns are mainly Ionic and Corinthian styles with a few Doric style with no engravings.
To the north-west corner of the cistern are two unusual Medusa column bases, one of the heads placed upside down, whereas the other is laid sideways. The origin of these heads are not know, however it is believed that they were removed from antique buildings of the late Roman period and subsequently brought to the cistern. Researchers believe that the heads were placed in their unusual positions deiberately.
The cistern has capacity to store 100,000 tons of water. You’ll see lots of fish swimming in them now. Near the exit of the cistern there is a restaurant where you can enjoy a meal in this stunning setting. I thoroughly enjoyed our visit and would definitely visit again next time we’re in Istanbul.