The echo of a thousand-year heritage is heard from underground for the first time. The famous underground cisterns of Istanbul also convey traces of historical heritage to this day. Underground cisterns, shedding light on the mystery of Istanbul, were built in ancient times to meet the needs of the era for water. It is known that the number of water cisterns, which are the cultural treasures of this ancient city with a thousand-year history, has reached 100. While some of these cisterns are open to the active visit, most of them are closed to visitors, and the restoration process is ongoing. We have collected 6 cisterns for you, reflecting the mysterious underworld of Istanbul. What do the cisterns of Istanbul tell us? Which cisterns have been restored in Istanbul? How many cisterns are in the city? Let’s explore the details together.
1. Basilica Cistern
The Basilica Cistern, which tops our list, has been reopened to visitors in recent months after a lengthy restoration process. The charming cistern, which has been filled with visitors since its opening, is considered one of the city’s most important cultural treasures. This magnificent underground cistern, built by the Eastern Roman emperor Justinian I (527-565), is also popularly called the “Basilica Palace” because of the marble columns that rise above the water and seem to be countless.
Some call it the “Basilica Cistern” because the Basilica of the Stoa was located at the location of the structure called the “Basilica Cistern” in Latin. The Basilica Cistern, which is the largest closed cistern in the city with a water storage capacity of 80,000 tons and attracts attention because its load-bearing members are used more than other closed tanks, offers a very impressive visual feast.
On the other hand, an area of about 1000 m2; The huge rectangular building, 140 meters long and 70 meters wide, is also a witness to the legend. The head of Medusa, the most important symbol of the basilica, is the main character of this legend. One of the legends about the heads of Medusa, which is one of the most special examples of Roman sculptural art and attracts a lot of attention from visitors, is this:
Jellyfish; She is a girl who is proud of her black eyes, long hair and beautiful body. Medusa is in love with Perseus, the son of Zeus. On the other hand, Athena also loves Perseus and is jealous of Medusa. That’s why Athena turns Medusa’s hair into a snake. Rumor has it that anyone Medusa looks at will turn to stone. Perseus later cuts off Medusa’s head, and using her power, she manages to defeat many of her enemies.
2. Cistern Binbirdirek
We continue our list with the famous Binbirdirek Cistern. Tanker 64 m X 56 m, total 3584 m2 It is the second largest water cistern in Istanbul after the Basilica Cistern, with its size and 224 columns. Byzantine records indicate that the work was made in the 4th century. The cistern, which was named the Philoxenus Cistern because it was built by Philoxenos, a Roman senator of the Byzantine Emperor Constantine, was used as a storehouse after the 16th century, as the water in the cistern dries out over time.
The historical cistern mainly consists of pillars stacked on top of each other and connected to each other by pyramidal crowns without engraving. The walls of the building are made of thick brick vaults.
The columns in the cistern consist of two superimposed bodies with truncated pyramidal capitals, on top of which there is no engraving. It is recorded that the Greek letters engraved on the column bodies are the marks of the masons who worked on the construction of the cistern and worked on the columns.
The cistern is located to the west of the hippodrome. Today, the cistern, connected to the gallery, consists of small retail sections, cafes and exhibition spaces. The cavity in the middle of the cistern, where the original height of the columns is visible, was made during the restoration.
3. Fieldami Cistern
Fildami, located in Osmaniye Veliefendi, is one of the four large open cisterns of Byzantine Istanbul. Although it is not known exactly where the name Fildami came from, it was the golden age of Byzantium V-VI. It is believed that it was built over the centuries.
The closest to the truth is the version that the cistern received such a name due to the fact that in the last periods of Byzantium there were elephants belonging to the army and the palace. The thickness of the walls of the cistern, together with the niches, reaches 7 meters, and the height reaches 11 meters. The walls were built from the bottom up with 7 rows of stone and 7 rows of bricks in the form of a belt.
Brick belts are built from five rows of bricks. In the Ottoman period, we talked about the fact that elephants belonging to the army and the palace were placed in this cistern. It is known that the Fildami cistern, which is 127.00 m x 76.00 m long, which is the most striking and durable example of Byzantine open cisterns, supplied water to the palaces of Magnaur and Yukundiana in Bakirkei.
4. Aetius Cistern
The Aetios Cistern, one of Istanbul’s mysterious cisterns, served as an important water reservoir in Istanbul during the Byzantine period. This historic site, once one of the largest Byzantine cisterns, is now used as a football stadium. It has been known as “Karagyumryuk Stadium” or “Vefa Stadium” since 1928. When the cistern was in operation, it served as an open-air cistern with impressive dimensions: 244 m long, 85 m wide and 14 m deep. The Aetios Cistern, as it was known, could easily surround four American football fields with its area of 20,81028,096 m².
The design of the large cistern, which is surrounded by walls and is located today in the Fatih area, dates back to the first half of the 5th century AD, Emperor II. It is believed that it refers to the reign of Theodosius.
The Aetios Cistern was designed parallel to the city’s main aisle in order to adapt to its environment. The cistern also supplied water from a 971 m long Roman water transport system, the Bozdogan Aqueduct, built in the 4th century AD. The historic building had a water holding capacity of 66 to 79 million gallons with retaining walls 5.20 feet high.
5. Zeyrek Cistern
We continue our list with the Zeyrek Cistern, the third largest cistern in Istanbul. A major restoration period is currently underway to make the cistern accessible to tourists. The Zeyrek cistern, preserved from the Byzantine period, was known as the cistern of the Pantokrator monastery. The impressive structure, which differs from other cisterns in that it is partly on the ground, was built by the Byzantine Emperor II. It was built by Ioannes Komnenos.
The cistern is also among the important ruins of the Historic Peninsula. The Zeyrek Cistern, located on Ataturk Boulevard, is not weakening. Another name for the cistern is known as Pantokrator. Zeyrek Cistern, one of the cisterns shedding light on the underground mystery of the ancient city of Istanbul, is preparing to become the focus of local and foreign tourists.
6. Cistern of goodwill
We have come to the end of our Istanbul cisterns list. The Şerefiye Cistern, which is one of the oldest water structures on the historical peninsula of Istanbul with a history of around 1600 years, is estimated to have been built during the reign of Theodosius II (408–450), although an inscription cannot be found based on its architectural features.
Due to Istanbul’s scarcity of water resources, population density and sieges, water storage facilities are needed. While open and closed cisterns have been used as urban water reservoirs for centuries; It is assumed that the magnificent closed cisterns, such as the Benevolence and the Basilica, mainly supplied the Great Palace, the baths of Nymphaeum and Zeuxippus with water.
45 sail vaults and 32 columns stand out inside the Sherefie Cistern, which was built on an area of approximately 24 meters by 40 meters and has a ceiling height of 11 meters. All Corinthian capitals with impost blocks were made of marble from the Marble Island, especially for the cistern. Headdresses are decorated with acanthus (bear’s claw) leaves. The interior walls of the structure are covered with waterproof plaster and the corners are curved to withstand water pressure. The thickness of the walls of the magnificent cistern is approximately 2.5 meters.
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