The Basilica Cistern

This past week has been a very busy one as we hosted my wonderful sister Lizz and her friend Amy at our apartment. I had a fantastic time playing Tour Guide as I took them around Istanbul to see many of the main attractions like the Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque, Istiklal Street, the Grand Bazaar, and the Galata Tower, and fed them as many kinds of Turkish food as we could in the time we had.

We also visited several places I had yet to see. One of these was the Basilica Cistern. The cistern is located right next to the Hagia Sophia. Many people skip it. Since it’s underground, it’s not an obvious landmark. It doesn’t have any frescoes or mosaics. But it is a marvel of engineering.

The Basilica Cistern was built in 532 under Emperor Justinian to hold water brought by aqueduct from what is now the Belgrade Forest. It’s filled with water. There are walkways allowing you to explore the cistern from one end to the other. As my sinuses were congested, my senses were dulled and my mind was foggy, so I had forgotten to bring my camera. The pictures I took were done with my phone (the one I registered in Turkey).

The space is lit from below which gives it a tranquil and eerie feeling, a feeling which is easily shoved away as the masses of chattering, picture-taking tourists like us make our way around.

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There are now fish in the water. I’m not sure how they got there. My photos of the fish did not come out. There is a cafe in the cistern. No, it does not offer fish on its menu. I think they’re missing out an opportunity. They could be offering “fresh, cistern-raised” fish.

The two enormous Medusa heads are the most popular site inside. The heads were taken from some other structure and placed there when the cistern was initially constructed. No one knows why one is upside down.

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We also went to the Grand Bazaar that day. Lizz and Amy were overwhelmed with the scale and range of goods available for sale. It is an overwhelming place, in terms of size and intensity, and sometimes because of the prices. Good prices are there to be had for those who are willing to bargain.

They both bought several scarfs, doing a lot of bargaining. My sister also bought her husband a beautiful backgammon set that was inlaid with mother-of-pearl. She did some serious bargaining for that item. She works in sales so she’s rather good at it. I stood by, amused.

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4 thoughts on “The Basilica Cistern

  1. Aaaaah! Love this place and didn’t get to visit it when I was there. Lovely pictures :)

  2. This is my daughter’s favourite stop in Istanbul. We go every year!

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