"Yerebatan Cistern: The Sunken Palace" Basilica Cistern - Yerebatan Saray Tip by nicolaitan

by nicolaitan
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The Roman fascination with water is manifest in Istanbul by up to 100 or more underground cisterns for water preservation. Like the Sultan and Column cisterns, huge columns support an arched roof with water covering the columns, hence the name applied to this largest and most famous of the cisterns. Unsuitable for bus tours and often excluded from private tours, the Yerebaten Cistern should be a must-see in Istanbul, especially since it is located right across from the Hagia Sophia and adjacent the Hippodrome.

Following the Nika Revolt (532), Emperor Justinian commissioned among other projects the creation of a great cistern under the Basilica, a commercial square, so originally known as the Basilica Cistern. With an area of almost 105000 sq ft, the cistern holds up to 2,800000 gallons. The arched roof is supported by 336 30 ft high columns. Most of these were taken from older buildings as some are doric and others Corinthian in style, made of different types of marble. Some are clearly comprised of segments from two different columns. The brick walls and floors are 5 feet thick, waterproofed with plaster.

Under the Ottomans, who preferred running to still water, the cistern fell into disrepair. Stories of people dropping buckets through their house floor and coming up with water and the occasional fish persisted through the centuries and an occasional European visitor descended into the cistern, but the first directed exploration would wait until a German expedition in the 1900's. Restorations began in 1985 and the cistern opened to tourists several years later.

Today one walks above the water on elevated wooden walkways between the columns allowing one to peer down into the water where innumerable fish often described as overgrown goldfish live a life of luxury ( at least until they are "replaced" every four years ). Looking up to the ceiling and the arches with moving light reflected from the water is eerie.

There are two featured columns. One is the Column of Tears, said to be engraved with tear drop like surface allegedly to recall deaths among the 7000 slaves who built the cistern. The second feature are two columns at the far end of the cistern containing blocks with the head of Medusa - one face on its side and the other upside down. Overenthusiastic romantics have suggested that these positions are meant to symbolize the triumph of Christianity over heathen beliefs. Maybe these fragments just fit better this way into the columns.

The Yerebatan Cistern is a remarkable attraction and should not be missed.

Address: Alemdar Mahallesi, Yerebatan Caddesi, No:1/3, Ista
Directions: In sultanahmet, very near Topkapi & Hagia Sofia
Phone: +90 212 522 1259
Website: http://www.yerebatan.com/

Review Helpfulness: 4.5 out of 5 stars

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  • Updated Mar 28, 2009
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