Istanbul, Cistern Basilica • Turkey

"Embark on a journey through time in less than 4 minutes! Our video invites you to uncover the hidden marvels of Istanbul, unveiling the ancient waterways beneath the city's bustling streets. Dive into the depths of the Historical Cistern, an architectural masterpiece, once the lifeblood of the grand city of Constantinople. This unique freshwater reservoir, a testament to Roman ingenuity, tells a fascinating story of survival, adaptability, and resilience. From the intricacies of its columns to the mysteries of its Medusa-headed sculptures, each detail is a brushstroke in the portrait of an era. Detailed historical explanations await on our page, further enriching your understanding of this unparalleled site. Don't wait, history unfolds right here, beneath your feet!"

This film was made on the basis of photos and videos taken during the trip Turkey • Istanbul 2015

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Reading the text below will help you better understand the historical context of the sites shown in this video.

water in Constantinople (formerly Byzantium and now Istanbul)


Water has always been a vital element in all civilizations. Constantinople, the former name of Istanbul, was no exception to this rule. The Romans were past masters in the art of building aqueducts to bring water to cities. And Constantinople which was the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire owes its name to the Roman Emperor Constantine.


The Cistern Basilica (in Turkish Erebatan Sarnici or Yeregatah Saray)


Water was brought to the city by an aqueduct connecting Constantinople to water sources about twenty kilometers from the city. Constantinople has no rivers or springs, so it was important to store fresh water to support a growing population without growing.

Constantinople had a large number of open-air basins to store this water. But as the city was often the object of raids and enemy attacks, it was also of strategic importance to have protected reserves.

Thus a number of underground cisterns were created in the first years of our era.

One of these cisterns, probably the best preserved today of the few that have come down to us. This cistern was dug under a public square where a basilica was built. In Roman times, a basilica was a large rectangular building supported by columns, and did not have the religious connotation that we know today. These buildings could be courts, stock exchanges or simply places to walk.

The cistern built under this square had all the architectural characteristics of a Roman basilica, and as it was itself located under a basilica, its name flowed from source... the Basilica Cistern. It was built in the sixth century by Emperor Justinien I.




This huge underground cistern was built according to a rectangular plan and its ceiling was supported by 12 rows of 28 columns, making a total of 336. These columns are 9 meters high. Its dimensions are 138 meters in length and 65 meters in width. It could hold about 80,000 cubic meters of water.

While most of the columns are Ionic or Corinthian in style, some are Doric in style, without engravings. Several columns are special.

Among these, a column engraved with images in relief representing hen's or peacock's eyes. A local superstition claims that inserting a finger into a hole in this column brings good luck.

Two other columns are remarkable for their foot. Placed on Medusa heads, these two columns are unique. Medusa was a character in Greek mythology, one of the three deities known as the Gorgons. This is an evil character capable of petrifying his enemies with a single look. Various theories exist on the origin of these columns, but it is commonly believed that these heads were removed from an ancient Roman monument and placed under the column to serve as a base. The evil nature of Medusa probably explains why these heads are either upside down or horizontal, because of the fear inspired by her gaze. These sculptures are considered outstanding examples of late Roman art and were reused by the Byzantines in the construction of the cistern. 

The cistern was used until the Ottoman period, but was then abandoned and forgotten for centuries. It was rediscovered by chance in the 16th century and has been restored over time. Today it is open to visitors and has become a popular tourist attraction in Istanbul.

Nowadays, the cistern contains only a little water, to allow the visit of this historical place. 

Spoken comments in the film: 

Istanbul, formerly Constantinople, has been a great city since antiquity. And like all big cities, it had  to find solutions to store water, an essential element for life. Large reservoirs were built at the beginning of our era. Many of these basins were in the open air and others were dug under the city, among other things for security reasons. Among these underground cisterns is the Basilica Cistern, one of the largest and best preserved. This huge space was filled with water and supplied part of the city.

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about the place, Istanbul:

Istanbul is the economic capital of Turkey. It is at the same time the largest city in the country. The city was founded in the 7th century BC under the name Byzantium. 

In 330 CE, Emperor Constantine the Great designated it as the new capital of the Roman Empire and initially called it New Rome. Later it became Constantinople. For 16 centuries it was the capital of several empires, Byzantine, Roman and Ottoman. 

Constantinople was a Christian city for a long time, even hosting 4 of the first 7 councils. With the fall of Constantinople in 1453, the city became Muslim before becoming the seat of the Ottoman Caliphate in the early 16th century. 

At the time of the formation of the Republic of Turkey, the capital was transferred to Ankara and the city was renamed in 1930 to become Istanbul.



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Disclaimer: Despite its appropriateness, copyright issues prevent the use of turkish traditional music in "Istanbul • Cistern Basilica, Turkey", hence the use of royalty-free music. Despite our careful selection, some might regret this decision, which is necessary to avoid potential lawsuits. Although difficult, this decision is the only viable solution.

Medusa statue reused to serve as a column base, Istanbul • Turkey

Medusa statue reused to serve as a column base

view of the columns of the Basilica Cistern, Istanbul • Turkey

view of the columns of the Basilica Cistern

fish in the Basilica Cistern, Istanbul • Turkey

fish in the Basilica Cistern

ceiling of the Basilica Cistern, Istanbul • Turkey

ceiling of the Basilica Cistern

Istanbul, Cistern Basilica • Turkey

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