Monday, October 29, 2012

Basilica Cistern-Istanbul

Some time during the reign of the Emperor Justinian(527-565 AD), a large cistern was built near the Haggia Sophia, on the site of an old basilica. This was used to store water brought by aqueduct, also built by Justinian, from the Belgrade forest, approximately 19 kilometers away. The water apparently was used mostly by the palace. Other cisterns were also built for water storage in the city.

The cistern was used for water storage for centuries. It was apparently unknown to the Ottomans for about 100 years after they conquered the area(approximately 15th century AD).. It was rediscovered when some people were found to be getting water through holes in their basement floors. It has undergone restoration and was opened to the public in 1987.

According to some historic texts, 7,000 slaves were used in its construction. It is 453 feet long by 212 feet wide. The walls are three and one half meters thick, made of firebrick. The roof is vaulted brick supported by 336 columns, 30 feet tall, arranged in 12 rows of 28 columns in a row. It would hold 2.8 million gallons of water. A special water proof mortar was used. Most, if not all of the columns were recycled from other structures; they are mostly Ionic and Corinthian.

There is only a foot or two of water now present, a walkway has been constructed and lighting put in place.

The photo below is of the cistern looking straight between two rows of columns.

The next photo is shot more diagonally.

The column shown here is quite unique. It is referred to by some as a "peacock eye" column. As far as I know it is not known where it came from.

 The next two photos show two Medusa head sculptures used as column base supports. They were brought to the site from an unknown location. Why they were used upside down or sideways is not known. These are the only two Medusas. All the other columns are on regular plain bases.

All in all a very interesting and unique place to visit.


  1. I forgot--this cistern was used in the 1963 007 James Bond flick "From Russia With Love".

  2. Nice! I have always wanted to see that cistern.It turns up occasionally in books and documentaries.