The Basilica Cistern: Byzantine heritage of the Ottoman Empire

The Basilica Cistern is located not far from the famous Cathedral  -  Hagia Sophia,  in the center of Istanbul.

The Basilica Cistern was constructed in 532 AD under byzantine Emperor Justinian I. According to different sources, the cistern was a part of a vast water system that supplied Constantinople with water from springs of Thrace, 250 km far from the capital of the Byzantine Empire.  The system consisted of numerous tunnels, aqueducts, other cisterns.

The construction of water-supply system for Constantinople was started under Emperor Hadrian and was substantially extended under Constantine I.

The water for the Cistern was supplied from the Belgrade Forest, 19 km far from the city with the 115 meters long aqueduct, constructed under Justinian, and another one, famous Valens aqueduct, named so after the emperor it was constructed under, in 368 AD.  In Turkish its name is Bozdoğan Kemeri, - and it means aqueduct of the grey falcon. It has length of 970 meters. The aqueduct survived two Empires: Byzantine and Ottoman,  it is still one of the symbols of Istanbul.

Bizilika tank - a unique monument of ancient architecture (photo site stroi.mos.ru)

The Basilica Cistern served as underground water reservoir for Constantinople and received its name after the square above. There are 52 steps that lead to the impressive underground storage with a length of 138 meters, width of 64.6 meters, and with a total square of 1,000 square meters. The Cistern may contain up to 80,000 cubic meters of water.
Sometimes, underlining the beauty of the interior, the Cistern is called “The Sunken Palace” (Yerebatan Sarayi).
Arched lining is supported by 336 marble columns.

The columns, rising from the water, are arranged in 12 rows with 28 in each one. They are placed at the distance of 4.9 meters from each other and have a height of 9 meters.
Apparently, these columns were constructed from different materials from other parts of the Byzantine Empire.  For example, two of them have sculptured head of mythic Gorgon as their basements. Both stone heads are turned over to fit the height of the basement.

Head of Medusa the Gorgon in the bottom of the column (photo site tour.scng.ru)

After the fall of Constantinople in 1543, the structure was left abandoned for quite a long time. It was re-discovered in 1545. The Cistern was reconstructed twice during the Ottoman Empire, in 18th and 19th centuries. 

Additional reinforcement works were carried out in 1968, when two new cracks were restored, also Istanbul City Museum performed another restoration  in 1985, delivering about 50,000 tons of mud and constructing the platform for tourists, which replaced boats previously used for visiting of the Cistern.

The Basilica Cistern  was opened for general attendance on the 9th of September, 1987. At present it is one of the most popular sightseeing of Istanbul.

Ancient Cistern - popular tourist attraction (photo site www.electrummagazine.com)