Istanbul's underground Basilica Cistern

Trip Start Mar 10, 2011
Trip End Mar 28, 2011

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Where I stayed
Conrad Istanbul Bosphorus
Read my review - 5/5 stars

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Saturday, March 26, 2011

Day 16 (afternoon)

Temperature: 17 degrees
Weather: cloudy periods              

  It was now past one o'clock in the afternoon and lunch time.  At this point, Daghan cheerfully informed us that for those of us who wanted to, instead of having lunch we could visit all by ourselves an underground basilica cistern and this of course, at our own expenses!  Not being very hungry, well you guessed correctly, that’s exactly where Michel and I headed to,

Located only 500 feet southwest from the Haghia Sophia, the Basilica Cistern, Yerebatan Samici in Turkish, was built in the 6th century.  Being the largest and finest of several hundred ancient cisterns that lie beneath the city of Istanbul, I knew right away that I had made the right choice in visiting it when I stepped foot inside this beautiful gigantic sunken palace. 

This cathedral-size cistern was built as a vast underground water-tank and covered an area of 11,720 sq. yards which could hold 18 million gallons.  Quite ingenious these people were in that era!  Supported by a forest of 336 marble pillars of 30 feet each, note that as I write this it’s not because I counted them all but because I read the information pamphlet handed out to us at the entrance, the cistern had this mystical appearance that made it even more thrilling to be here!

So after descending fifty-two stone steps into the entrance of the cistern, and yes 52 stone steps because I counted all of them, here I was walking in semi-darkness on cemented bridges above a few feet of water lining the bottom and enjoying every moment of it!   Only electrical lights placed near the columns provided light and guidance as we proceeded in exploring several alleys of this exciting or maybe I should say damp spooky place while wondering if any rats were hiding in any dark corners!

We eventually landed right next to two huge column bases, an unusual tourist attraction, of the upside-down Medusa Heads as they called them.  Its origins are unknown though it is thought that the heads were brought here after being removed from a building of the late Roman period. 

One head lies sideways while the other one, upside down.  It is also thought that they were placed this unusual way only to be the proper size to support the columns.  Well for whatever reasons it might have been, I can say that I was here in person today and saw both of them all!   :-)

Our little escapade during lunch time was very much enjoyed in which after a good forty-five minutes of wandering underneath the city of Istanbul, and let’s not forget without even getting lost, I emerged from the underground cistern a very happy person, all in one piece and not bitten by any huge rats!  Hahaha!

Monique   :-)

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