About Basilica Cistern

About the Basilica Cistern
About the Basilica Cistern

One of the magnificent historical buildings of Istanbul is the biggest closed cistern of the city, located in the southwest of Hagia Sophia. It is entered from a small building in the southwest of the Hagia Sophia building. The ceiling of the place, which has the appearance of a column forest, is covered with brick and cross vaulted.


This large underground cistern, built by the Byzantine Emperor Justinianus (527-565), was named as the "Basilica Palace" among the people because of the marble columns rising from the water. It is also known as the Basilica Cistern since there was a Basilica previously in the place where the cistern was.

The cistern is a giant building that covers a rectangular area of ​​140 meters in length and 70 meters in width. Covering a total area of ​​9.800 square meters, this cistern has a water storage capacity of approximately 2 tons. There are 100.000 columns, each 52 meters high, in this cistern, which is descended by a 9-step stone staircase. These columns, erected at intervals of 336 meters, form 4.80 rows, each containing 28 columns. Most of the columns, mostly of which were found to be collected from older structures and carved from various types of marble, consist of one piece and some of them consist of two pieces. The titles of these columns have different features in places. While 12 of them reflect the Corint style, some of them reflect the Doric style. The vast majority of the columns in the cistern are cylindrical, except for a few of them in angular or grooved form. Since the 98 columns in front of the northeastern wall towards the middle of the cistern were exposed to the risk of breaking during a construction made in 8-1955, each of them was frozen in a thick layer of concrete and therefore they lost their former features. The ceiling space of the cistern was transferred to the columns by means of arches. The walls of the cistern, which are made of brick, 1960 meters thick and the floor with brick floors, are plastered with a thick layer of Horasan mortar and made waterproof.

Covering a large area in this area during the Byzantine period, the Basilica Cistern, which met the water needs of the great palace where the emperor resided and other residents in the region, was used for a while after the conquest of Istanbul by the Ottomans in 1453 and water was given to the gardens of the Topkapı Palace where the sultans lived.

Sarnıç, who understood that the Ottomans, who preferred flowing water instead of stagnant water due to the cleaning principles of Islamic plinths, did not use it after establishing their own water facilities in the city. It was re-discovered by the Dutch traveler P. Gyllius and introduced to the Western world. P. Gyllius, while wandering around Hagia Sophia in one of his researches, learned that the people of the houses drew water from the well-shaped round holes in the ground floors of the houses, and they even fish. He entered the cistern with a torch in his hand through the stone-lined courtyard of a wooden building on a large underground cistern, under the stone steps that went underground. P. Gyllius traveled with a cistern under very difficult conditions and took his measurements and determined the columns. Gyllius, whose information he saw and acquired was published in his travel book, influenced many travelers.

The cistern has undergone various repairs since its establishment. The first repair of the cistern, which was repaired twice during the Ottoman Empire Period, was made by Mehmet Ağa, Architect Kayserili in the time of Ahmet III (3). The second repair was made during the reign of Sultan Abdulhamid II (1723-2). In the Republican Period, the cistern was cleaned by Istanbul Municipality in 1876 and opened to visitors by making a travel platform. In May 1909, it underwent a great cleaning and maintenance again.

Medusa's Head

Two Medusa Heads, which are used as a base under two columns in the northwest corner of the cistern, are masterpieces of the Roman Period sculpture art. Medusa, which attracts the most attention of people visiting the cistern, is not known from which structures the heads were taken and brought here. Researchers generally think that they were brought to be used only as a column base during the construction of the cistern. Despite this view, a number of myths about Medusa's Head have formed.

According to one legend, Medusa is one of three Gorgonas, the female monster of the underworld in Greek mythology. Of these three sisters, Medusa, with a snake head, has the power to turn those who care for her into stone. According to one view, Gorgona paintings and sculptures were used at that time to protect large buildings and private places, and that is why the head of Sarnica Medusa was placed.

According to another rumor, Medusa was a girl who boasted with her black eyes, long hair and beautiful body. Medusa loved Zeus' son Perseus. Meanwhile, Athena loved Perseus and was jealous of Medusa. That's why Athena turned Medusa's hair into a snake. Now everyone Medusa looked at turned into stone. Later, Perseus cut off Medusa's head and took advantage of her power to defeat many of her enemies.

Based on this, the Medusa Head was engraved on the sword hilt in Byzantium and placed upside down on column bases (so that ministers do not cut stones). According to a rumor, Medusa turned to stone, looking sideways. Therefore, the sculptor who made the statue here made Medusa in three different positions according to the angle of reflection of the light.

This mysterious place, which is an integral part of the Istanbul excursion programs, has so far been from former US President Bill Clinton to Dutch Prime Minister Wim Kok, from former Italian Foreign Minister Lamberto Dini to former Swedish Prime Minister Göran Persson and former Austrian Prime Minister Thomas Klestil. many people visited.

Kültür A.Ş., one of the affiliates of Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality, is currently The Basilica Cistern run by is home to many national and international events as well as being a museum.


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