Basilica Cistern

Every great monument or an architectural wonder is part of the city and its other buildings. But what if I told you, that this great Basilica Cistern is located below the county of Istanbul.

Basilica Cistern: The secrets and story behind this masterpiece
Basilica Cistern: The secrets and story behind this masterpiece

This architectural masterpiece spans more than 1000 meters and has the ability to store close to 80 thousand cubic meters of water. It is the largest surviving underground cistern in Istanbul.

This is indeed a class contribution to the architectural world from the Byzantine empire.

Story of the Basilica Cistern

What does Basilica Cistern mean?

Basilica means an open place where people used to gather to discuss problems they face and vote on possible solutions. This structure is located below one such Basilica created by the Romans.

A cistern is the name of a place where water is stored. It was used to store close to 80,000 cubic meters of water.

When and how was this underground cistern built?

After the Nike riots in 532 plagued the Byzantine empire and destroyed many homes and buikdings, the city was in need of a rebuild. The emperor at that time, Justinain, ordered the construction of the Basilica Cistern in the year 532 AD.

This man made marvel spans across a 1000 meters and has 336 columns laid out in 12 rows each row containing 28 columns. They are found to be made of marble and granite most of which are Corinthian style.

More than 7000 slaves worked the construciton and in the process hundreds of them died.

Mark Twain famoulsy said this about the cistern,

‘’You’re 40 feet underground, and in the midst of a perfect wilderness of tall, slender, granite columns of Byzantine Architecture. Stand where you would, or change your position as often as you pleased, you were always a centre from which radiated a dozen long archways and colonnades that last themselves in distance and the somber twilight of the place.’’

Mark Twain

The other name used for this underground cistern

The Basilica Cistern is also called the Yerebatan Sarayi. The locals refer to this place using the latter whereas the former is pretty easy for tourists and outsiders to pronounce.

Secrets of the Basilica Cistern

Gorgon Heads

Gorgon heads are three sisters and one among them is the famous Medusa. It is said that a curse turned her beautiful hair into a head full of snakes. This in turn gave her the horrific power to turn anyone into stone with just a gaze.

The marble beams in this cistern contain these gorgon heads at the bottom but the interesting aspect is that these heads of inverted. The power of the gaze is thought to be nullified by inverting their faces.

Quite an interesting story, but I feel there is more that is left for us to find about the reason why these heads were inverted.

Gorgon Heads at the Basilica Cistern
Gorgon Heads at the Basilica Cistern

This cistern was made from recycling other buildings

It is understood that Justinian built this cistern as a way of developing the city after the Nika riots. The columns needed to build this was recycled from buildings there were destroyed due to these riots.

Since the city was a complete mess, this decision was taken as a way to reduce the costs needed to redevelop the city.

Adithya V

I have an innate interest in art and I am starting this blog to document some of the amazing things I learned. I would segregate my content in chronological order which would make sense for any beginner to read and make sense of it all.

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