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Basilica Cistern Facts & History | Unveiling the Mysteries

Beneath the bustling streets of Istanbul, Turkey, lies the Basilica Cistern, a 6th-century marvel that was once used for storing water for the city. This ancient underground reservoir, built by the Byzantine Emperor Justinian I, boasts 336 columns and haunting Medusa heads. Now a museum and a popular tourist attraction, the Basilica Cistern offers an eerie yet beautiful escape into Byzantine history.

10 Interesting Basilica Cistern facts

10 Interesting Basilica Cistern facts

Basilica Cistern is ancient engineering marvel

Constructed in the 6th century under Emperor Justinian I, the Basilica Cistern in Istanbul employed around 7,000 workers. This marvel of Byzantine engineering once supplied water to Constantinople's Great Palace. It is Istanbul's largest cistern, spanning nearly 10,000 square meters and holding an impressive 80,000 cubic meters of water.

10 Interesting Basilica Cistern facts

It was a water reservoir

Originally built for water storage, the cistern fell into disuse after the Ottoman conquest. Rediscovered in the 19th century, it underwent restoration and opened to the public in 1987 as a museum and event space. Over the years, it has hosted concerts, light shows, exhibitions, and even fashion shows, offering visitors a unique blend of history, art, and entertainment in a captivating setting.

10 Interesting Basilica Cistern facts

It has a connection to several Hollywood movies

Several movies have been shot inside the Basilica Cistern as many filmmakers have been drawn to the cistern's unique beauty. Popular basilica cistern movies include "Inferno" and "From Russia with Love" featuring the cistern’s eerie atmosphere. It served as a dramatic backdrop for scenes in a James Bond film, adding to its allure and cultural significance.

10 Interesting Basilica Cistern facts

The cistern played many different roles

The cistern served various secret roles, including as a mint during the Ottoman era, highlighting its adaptability over time. Though not open to the public, its depths hold hidden treasures. Archaeological dives uncovered ancient artifacts, pottery shards, and a sunken column adorned with Byzantine symbols, shedding light on its rich history.

10 Interesting Basilica Cistern facts

It might have also been a place of worship

Named after the Stoa Basilica above, the cistern might have been used for religious ceremonies during persecution. Discover the "Basilica of the Head," a chamber adorned with a cross, possibly used for Byzantine rituals. This hidden chamber adds intrigue to the cistern's history.

10 Interesting Basilica Cistern facts

It had a mysterious water source

Though ancient, the Basilica Cistern's water source remains mysterious. While aqueducts from places like the Belgrade Forest initially supplied water, the exact routes and mechanisms still puzzle historians and engineers.

10 Interesting Basilica Cistern facts

The cistern has a hidden entrance

Found near the Hagia Sophia, there's a discreet entrance beneath Istanbul's streets that leads to the Basilica Cistern. Stepping into its cold and dimly lit chambers transports visitors to a serene world of ancient architecture, away from the city's noise.

10 Interesting Basilica Cistern facts

Basilica Cistern has survived many earthquakes

The Basilica Cistern has endured approximately 22 significant earthquakes since its construction. This resilience underscores the remarkable craftsmanship of its Byzantine builders.

10 Interesting Basilica Cistern facts

It has repurposed marble columns

Among the 336 marble columns that uphold the cistern's structure, many were salvaged and repurposed from ancient Greek and Roman temples and ruins, adding a layer of historical richness to its architecture.

10 Interesting Basilica Cistern facts

It had immense strategic importance

The presence of the Basilica Cistern, along with other interconnected water cisterns, played a pivotal role in Constantinople's defense, contributing to the city's ability to withstand enemy sieges for nearly 1,000 years.




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Frequently asked questions about Basilica Cistern facts

What are the two Medusa heads in the Basilica Cistern famous for? Can I see them?

The Medusa heads inside Basilica Cistern are famous for their mysterious origins and unconventional positioning. Legend says they were placed upside down to ward off evil spirits and protect the water supply. While their exact origin is unknown, they remain a captivating and mysterious element of the cistern. The two Medusa heads are a major attraction within the cistern and easily accessible to visitors.

Is the cistern still filled with water?

Only a shallow layer of water remains at the bottom for aesthetic purposes and to preserve the columns' bases. Most of the water storage capacity is no longer utilized.

Can I walk on the bottom of the cistern?

Only a portion of the cistern floor is accessible to visitors via raised walkways. The majority remains submerged, creating a unique atmosphere and protecting the historical artifacts beneath the water's surface.

What movie featured the Basilica Cistern?

The cistern gained fame through its appearance in the James Bond film "From Russia with Love" and the horror movie "Inferno," adding to its mystique and intrigue.

Was the Basilica Cistern ever used for anything besides water storage?

Evidence suggests it might have been used for shipbuilding during the Ottoman era and even for religious ceremonies during times of persecution, showcasing its versatility beyond its primary function.

Can I swim in the cistern?

Swimming is strictly prohibited due to preservation concerns and safety regulations. However, you can admire the underwater depths through special diving tours or documentaries.