Basilica Cistern in Istanbul

Basilica Cistern Medussa

The subterranean Basilica Cistern in Istanbul once provided water for the Palace of Constantinople, and later for Topkapi Palace. It is thought to be an enlarged version of an original cistern built by the Emperor Constantine and then rebuilt and expanded by Emperor Justinian in 532 AD. Water travelled to this largest cistern, and to the numerous others in Constantinople, via aqueducts from woodlands 12 miles away. The cistern is an impressive archeological wonder of the Byzantine Empire.

                                                                                                       The cavernous cistern, also called the Sunken Palace or Yerebatan Sarayi, was cool and dark, with water dripping from above when we ventured down from the hot sunny streets of Istanbul. Twelve rows of marble columns hold up the high arched ceilings, and coloured floodlights add to the intriguing aura. Carp swam in the quiet reflective waters, as we moved along the damp cement walkways. Keep walking through the cistern to the back and you will come upon the Medusa heads.

These huge amazing stone carvings sit at the base of two columns. One mossy Medusa is upside down and the other lies on its side. Where they came from is a mystery. Why are they not upright? To ward off evil spirits? To celebrate the triumph of Christianity? This, too, is a mystery. 

Like many of the fantastic historic sites of Istanbul, the Basilica Cistern is within walking distance of the Blue Mosque, across the way from the Haghia Sofia in Sultanahmet. Worth seeing, be sure not to miss the Basilica Cistern.