The Basilica Cistern

Water cisterns were usually built beneath Turkish home during the Byzantine era. People dropped a rope with a bucket attached and drew water from these underground storage tanks.

Similarly, to cater to the needs of the people living in the nearby Hagia Sofia Palace, in Istanbul, a huge underground water cistern was constructed by the Byzantines. The water supply was maintained via the aqua ducts which fed water into these underground cisterns.

Popularly known as the Basilica cistern due to its proximity to the Palace, it lay deep, dark, forgotten as the world went by above.

Local Turkish families continued to draw water from this cistern for centuries.
The Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality restored the cistern in the 1980s and opened it for the public.

Descending into the dark womb of the cistern leads you to a wide open great hall supported by several pillars. Leaving the bustle and noise of Istanbul above you walk into the silent underbelly of the city.
The soft light reflects off the pillars and the cool waters lie dark and still. A calming silence and the coolness of the underground air is welcome after a hot day outside.

Concrete pathways have been a recent addition to enable visitors to walk around and explore the area.
Before the pathways, boats were used to get around. James Bond in his film From Russia with Love had to row a boat as he was fleeing the bad guys.

Navigating this maze of pillars leads you to an unusual occupant.

Medusa is found at the end of the cistern staring angrily at her visitors. There are two of them, one placed sideways and another upside down. How did she get here is a mystery.

A weeping pillar, nearby, tells of a legend that it is a wish fulfilling pillar. Throw a coin into the water and make a wish.

After a long exploration at the stunning Hagia Sofia Palace, a quick tour of the Basilica Cistern helps cool off and slow down. The charm of visiting a James Bond film location and also facing Medusa without turning to stone is an added attraction 🙂

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