Beneath the first hill of Istanbul lies the Basilica Cistern. During our reporting trip to Turkey last summer, we visited these extraordinary caverns built by the Byzantine emperor Justinian in 532.
Arranged in 12 rows, 336 columns from ruined structures support the massive cistern. Two of the columns supported by upside-down Medusa heads (pictured above) are tucked-away in one of the corners. The cistern supplied a massive amount of water to a palace and surrounding buildings via aqueducts for hundreds of years. But then the cistern was forgotten. As Lonely Planet explains:
“Enter scholar Petrus Gyllius, who was researching Byzantine antiquities in 1545 and was told by locals that they could obtain water by lowering buckets in their basement floors. Some were even catching fish this way. Intrigued, Gyllius explored the neighbourhood and discovered a house through whose basement he accessed the cistern. Even after his discovery, the Ottomans (who referred to the cistern as Yerebatan Sarayı) didn’t treat the underground palace with the respect it deserved and it became a dumping ground for all sorts of junk, as well as corpses. It has been restored at least three times.
It’s a treasure not to be missed.
Photo by Nikolai Vassiliev/Flickr, cc by-nc-nd 2.0)
~Trent Gilliss, senior editor