Story of Basilica cistern
Due to its geographical location that connects Europe with Asia and due to its importance in the world of trade, Istanbul city has been always an attractive place for many civilizations and empires through the time. Especially Byzantinian Empire which has built what was called a modern city full of facilities using sophisticated architectural and civil techniques. In the matter of a fact, a lot of what was built and established during Byzantinian period is still standing till the current day as a proof of how great this civilization was, and one of the most important proofs is the Basilica Cistern.
Cisterns in general were spread everywhere in Istanbul during Byzantinian, these huge rooms were constructed to store water to be used later by people but the most important and largest one of them is Basilica Cistern.
Basilica Cistern was built by an order from Empire Justanian in 532 as a project of rebuilding the city after constantinople was destroyed by Nika riots, and historical fact say that it is the largest surviving cistern in Istanbul with 138 m in length and 65 m in width covering an area of almost one thousands meters and has the ability to store up to 80 thousands cubic meters of water which is considered a huge number at that time.
The work and effort to build this cistern had to be incredible because the cistern has to be strong enough to hold the pressure of water inside of it. Thus, it was constructed with 336 marble columns supporting the structure lined up in 12 raws of 28 columns each measuring 9 m in height. Some say that these columns were recycled from older buildings in different parts of Byzantine empire or taken from what was left from construction parts of other buildings such as Hagia Sophia and you actually tell that when you see the the two heads of Medusa as the bases of the two columns, these heads were reused in the construction of Basilica cistern. It is still not known why the Emperor would give an order of recycling but some people suggest a reason for decreasing costs.
It is not for sure if the name Basilica is the original name of this cistern but it was given from the fact that it stands right under the area where the Roman Basilica once existed taking in consideration that Basilica means an open large place where business meetings and trade decisions were taken.
Despite that Basilica Cistern is very famous today and people from all over the world visit it everyday but it was not that famous long time ago, because sometime before the Ottoman Empire took over the city this cistern was shot down and closed and somehow it was forgotten by the government of the city until the early 1545 when a French scholar called Petrus Gyllius has discovered this masterpiece. Later on, the locals told him that they were able to get water from it by lowering buckets to their basement floors and some almost swore that they could catch fish from it. Petrus then was able to enter this cistern somehow passing from the basement floors of houses in the neighborhood. In any case, the Ottoman Empire authority did not pay attention to this discovery and the cistern turned out to be a trash dump but restored later to store water in it.
In 1980, some lightnings and decorations were added to the cistern to be used as a museum for tourists because it was not used anymore for water.
The Basilica Cistern was constructed in a very sophisticated way and was solving a very annoying problem for people at that time just like other cisterns. Today and after two thousand years of many wars and earthquakes, the Basilica Cistern still stands strongly as proof of how Byzantine Empire served its people and what kind of solutions it introduced to the world.
Once you enter this cistern, you will be amazed by its size, just imagine that the huge room you are walking between its columns and that can fit for more than two hundred people was once filled with water. In fact, you can still see some water left and you can still see fish swimming in it.
If you want to visit the Basilica cistern, it is located in the SultanAhmet Square just 159 meter far of Hagia Sophia museum