Sunday, April 10, 2016

The Sunken Palace in Istanbul: Basilica Cistern

Have any of you read Dan Brown’s latest book – Inferno?

Unfortunately, I have only read the book a month later after having visited Istanbul and the Basilica Cistern. However, it did not really matter because whilst reading the book, I could vividly picture every scene in the book, giving so much depth and reading pleasure. I was there when Sienna Brooks and Robert Langdon crawled the underwater cistern. But I also enjoyed the pursuit scenes in Florence, a place that I have been longing to go back.


The queues to the Basilica Cistern (Yerebatan Sarayi) are quite long, but nonetheless it is moving slowly at intervals. The reason for the interval wait is for safety and managing judiciously the flow of people going in and out of the cistern. This means they only allow a certain number of people to go in every 15 minutes or so.

The cathedral-size subterannean structure was built by the Byzantine Emperor Justininan I to provide a water filtration system for the Great Palace of Constantinople and other important buildings in the area. It is supposed to store 100,000 tons of water. Today, the sunken tank does not function anymore as a cistern but as a museum.

A few of the interesting items on feature inside the cistern are the two Medusa column bases, one of which is lying sideways 90 degrees whilst the other one is turned upside down. It remains a mystery why these two Medusa pillars are here and why they are lying on the said position. Do you have perhaps a theory?

I do like the arches and the vaulted brick ceilings, as well as how the forest of columns line up one after the other. It is a different world under the cistern. It is a bit eerie and fairly mysterious, which echoes well I guess with the dark Byzantine period. Life must be very hard back then.

Another equally interesting piece is the green Peacock-eyed column, wherein one of the peacock eyes has a hole. For some reason, many tourists insert their fingers inside this hole while they take a souvenir selfie. Must be one of those luck stuff again I am sure.

On the waters you can see carp fishes swimming which ocassionally make some water splashes. So don’t worry if you hear some noise on the water, those are the fishes.

There is also a cafe in the cistern and sometimes they hold exhibitions underground. I also saw a picture taking corner where tourists can dress themselves as Sultan and Sultana during the Ottoman period for a souvenir photo. Not for me, thank you.

Sadly, my pocket camera cannot and did not do wonders in the dark underground. So my pictures are not really that great.


Queuing up here for the Basilica Cistern.


Marble columns in mainly Corinthian and Ionic styles.


Vaulted brick ceiling and Corinthian column.


Photo opportunity to become a Sultan and Sultana for a few minutes inside the cistern. A very nice passing lady offered to take a picture of moi after seeing me struggling with my selfie.


Carp fishes live in the water. A few were orange coloured.


The green Peacock-eyed column. One of these eyes has a hole and many tourists insert their finger into it for good luck.


 The lying sideways Medusa column.


And this is the other Medusa pillar that is lying upside down.


Travel Period: May 2015
Destination: Fatih, Istanbul (Marmara), Turkey

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