Beneath the Vibrant City: Unraveling the Secrets of Istanbul's Enchanting Subterranean Marvel - The Basilica Cistern

Basilica Cistern

Basilica Cistern

Commissioned by Emperor Justinian in 532, the Basilica Cistern stands as the largest surviving Byzantine cistern in Istanbul, a testament to grand engineering and historical significance. Boasting 336 columns, some salvaged from ancient temples, adorned with intricately carved capitals, the cistern's symmetrical beauty captivates visitors. Its cavernous depths offer a refreshing retreat on hot summer days, making it a cherished destination.

Originally part of the Stoa Basilica, a prominent square on the first hill, the cistern was aptly named the Basilica Cistern. Its purpose was to supply water to the Great Palace and surrounding structures, with a capacity of storing up to 80,000 cubic meters of water. An intricate network of aqueducts spanning 20 kilometers delivered water from a reservoir near the Black Sea. However, as the Byzantine emperors relocated from the Great Palace, the cistern's significance diminished, leading to its closure. Eventually forgotten by city authorities, it remained concealed until 1545 when scholar Petrus Gyllius stumbled upon it while researching Byzantine antiquities. Local residents informed him that they drew water from a mysterious dark space beneath their basements and even caught fish there. Intrigued, Gyllius explored the area, gaining access to the cistern through one of the basements. Despite his discovery, the Ottomans, who referred to it as Yerebatan Saray (Underground Palace), failed to recognize its true value. Instead, they used it as a dumping ground for various refuse, including corpses.

In 1985, the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality undertook a comprehensive cleaning and renovation of the cistern, recognizing its historical importance. The Basilica Cistern was unveiled to the public in 1987, rapidly becoming one of the city's most sought-after tourist attractions. Visitors now traverse raised wooden platforms, feeling water droplets from the vaulted ceiling and observing ghostly schools of carp gracefully patrolling the water, creating an atmosphere filled with wonder and intrigue.

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