The Basilica Cistern: hauntingly beautiful

This is certainly turning into a travel blog, have you noticed? Oh well, these posts are long overdue! I hope you’re not sick of Turkey at this point. If you are looking for something slightly different, feel free to browse older posts and read about my love for breakfast, or read about my childhood in Oman and tell me a little something about yourself. The rest of you may read on about the incredible Basilica Cistern.

Most Arab tourists leave this historical wonder off their sightseeing list. I think it is completely overshadowed (metaphorically and literally – it’s underground) by the neighboring, towering structures: the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque. Unless you have done your research you’re likely to walk right past the entrance, speculating over the long cues outside a stone entrance. What you must do, however, is join that cue, because you do not want to miss this historical beauty.

Basilica Cistern Istanbul Turkey

It is really hard to take photos when you’re inside and maybe you shouldn’t even try. Just take in your surroundings and try to envision how this structure came to be. This underground cistern was built by a Byzantine Emperor around the year 530 CE. It’s a giant rectangular structure, supported by massive marble columns (apparently, there are 336 of them and they’re 9 meter high!) that stand 4.80 meters apart. The columns are connected through arches which hold up the ceiling. The cistern has the capacity to store 100,000 tons of water and is truly an architectural miracle.

For all you film buffs reading my blog, the cistern was used as a location for the 1963 James Bond film From Russia with Love. Also, two massive Medusa heads are used as the bases of two columns. Although the story of how these heads made it from Rome to Constantinople is not clear, these Medusa heads attract many visitors. “Tradition has it that the blocks are oriented sideways and inverted in order to negate the power of the Gorgons‘ gaze, however it is widely thought that one was placed sideways only to be the proper size to support the column.”

I think the Basilica Cistern is open daily from 9 to 6:30 PM. Tickets are TL 10. My thoughts? Even if you are in Istanbul for a couple of days only, make time to see the cistern. It’s fascinating in a creepy, unearthly way.

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