The Historic Basilica Cistern

The Basilica Cistern is one of the magnificent historical buildings of Istanbul and is located in the southwest of the Hagia Sophia Mosque. In addition, because of the marble columns rising from the water and seen in large numbers, people call this cistern “Basilica Palace”.

The cistern is a giant building that covers a rectangular area of 140 meters in length and 70 meters in width. Covering a total area of 9,800 square meters, this cistern has a water storage capacity of approximately 100,000 tons. In this cistern, there are 336 columns and each column is 9 meters high. Also, it is descended by a 52-step stone staircase. These columns, erected at intervals of 4.80 meters, form 12 rows, each containing 28 columns.

basilica cistern
Basilica Cistern

Most of the columns, most of which were found to be collected from older structures and carved from various types of marble, consist of a single piece and some of them consist of two pieces. The titles of these columns have different features in places. While 98 of them reflect the Corint style, some of them reflect the Doric style. The vast majority of the columns in the cistern are cylindrical, except for a few of them in angular or grooved form.

basilica cistern
Basilica Cistern
Discovering the Basilica Cistern

Basilica Cistern met the water needs of the great palace where the emperor lived and the other inhabitants of the region during the Byzantine period. The Ottomans used it for a while after conquering Istanbul and gave water in the gardens of the Topkapı Palace, where the sultans lived. Ottomans preferred flowing water instead of stagnant water due to the cleaning principles of Islamic bases. Therefore, the Ottomans did not use this cistern after establishing their own water facilities in the city.

Dutch traveler P.Gyllius re-discovered this place and introduced it to the Western world. P.Gyllius, while wandering around Hagia Sophia in one of his studies, learned that the people of the houses drew water from the well-rounded holes in the ground floors of the houses here, and even fished with the buckets hanging down.

He entered the cistern with a torch in his hand through the stone-lined courtyard of a wooden building on a large underground cistern, under the stone steps that went underground. P. Gyllius traveled with a cistern under very difficult conditions and took his measurements and determined the columns. Gyllius has published the travel book in which he saw and acquired information, and he impressed many travelers.

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