Basilica Cistern – Istanbul Mysterious Underground Cistern

The Basilica Cistern, which is visited by local and foreign tourists in Istanbul Center Sultanahmet, has been used as a venue in many TV series and movies. The Basilica Cistern is one of the most important structures that settled in Istanbul and survived from the advanced cultures there.

Istanbul Fatih Basilica Cistern

The columns inside the building and especially the upside down Medusa heads attract a lot of attention. Before the cistern was built, there was a basilica in this area. That’s why this place is also known as the Basilica cistern. The Basilica Cistern is right across from Hagia Sophia.

Resembling a palace hidden underground, the Basilica Cistern is one of the oldest and most magnificent works from the Byzantine period. Although the dark environment frightens the visitors at first when you enter it, the magnificent beauty of the columns seen later leaves everyone in awe.

The Medusa Head and the Column of Tears are the most interesting works in the 1500-year-old structure, which has the appearance of a column forest and is also called the Basilica Palace. The cistern, which is located in Sultanahmet Square and has a charming atmosphere, is one of the must-see places in Istanbul.

The Byzantine structure built by Emperor Justinian was built in 532. Also known as the Underground Basilica, the Underground Cistern is the best preserved cistern in Istanbul today.

The cistern, which you enter by descending a  52-step stone staircase,  is a closed area in the form of a rectangle 140  meters long and  70  meters wide  . The abundance  and beauty of the columns  supporting the ceiling, which impresses the visitors the most, in this large area with a water storage capacity of  approximately  100,000 tons .

Basilica Cistern and Medusa

The lengths and widths of the columns are often different from each other. When you move towards the bottom of the cistern, you will see that large stones are placed under two very short columns for support. The face of Medusa is depicted on these stones.

In the ancient Greek period, the name of the city of Istanbul was Byzantion. At that time, the Greek people worshiped mythological gods such as Zeus. In one of the famous mythological stories, there is also a story about the fight between the heroic fighter  Perseus  and the snake-haired monster  Medusa .

According to mythological belief, Medusa was a beautiful woman who later turned into a monster. Anyone who looked into this woman’s eyes would turn to stone. Due to this feature of Medusa, it was believed to have a protective feature like the Sphinxes in the Ancient Egypt period and to the entrance of special structures; It was placed there to protect it.

Medusa statues were used strictly for structural purposes in the Basilica Cistern. They were taken from where they belonged and placed as supports under the pillars.

But still, Byzantine workers and slaves; They must have been afraid of this bad reputation of Medusa, because they were afraid to lay their heads straight. The cistern would have been flooded, but still, the workers placed the heads of Medusa sideways and upside down. So no one would come face to face with Medusa.

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