Underneath Istanbul are hundreds of cisterns – ancient Byzantine water stores. The largest one in the city has been drained so visitors can wander through an underground forest of columns. It’s a stunning sight to see.
This cistern was built in the 6th century in the Byzantine era. This cathedral-size cistern is an underground chamber approximately 138 metres by 64 metres – impressive! The ceiling is supported by a forest of 336 marble columns, each 9 metres high, arranged in 12 rows of 28 columns. The columns were recycled from the ruins of various other buildings so not all of them match. They are carved and engraved out of various different types of granite. Makes for some amazing photos.
Two of the columns at the back of the cistern reuse blocks carved with Medusa’s face and hair. The origin of the heads are unknown but they are supposedly from the late Roman period. One of the heads is on its side, presumably because it was the right size to support the column above it. The other head was used upside down, perhaps to negate the power of Medusa’s gaze.
This cistern was discovered in the 16th century when a French archaeologist noticed locals catching fish by lowering buckets through holes in their floor. There are still plenty of carp in the cistern today.
It’s an affordable sight with a great audio guide and beautiful lighting. There are walkways through all the columns the full length of the cistern. It’s a well setup attraction for an ancient On a silly hot day, it was a relief to get into the cool for an hour or so as well.
A memorable experience. But there are more to come – next we’re visiting the Topaki Palace, home to generations of sultans of the Ottoman empire and their harem.
Until next time…