This cistern is thought to have been built after the Nika revolt in 532 AD. It was known as the Basilica Cistern during the Roman period. After the conquest of the city by the Ottoman Turks, it was forgotten and nobody knew that it existed. It was re-discovered in 1545, and was used to water the gardens of Topkapi Palace. Today it has a rather eery and mystical ambience.
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The old Cistern under the Sultanahmet
Recently discovered, the Cistern is made of columns scavenged from all over Turkey. It was the main water supply for Old Istanbul and a marvel of engineering. It's also cool and refreshing after the summer heat above.
When you enter, take a few minute to let your eyes adjust to the dim light but then be prepared for an architectural treat looking around this former water tank. Several of the columns appear uniform but have slight variations in them...plus don't miss the Medusa Head in the way back. It's worth trekking to the other end to see.
The Basilica Cistern in Sultanahmet (the Old City) is the largest of hundreds of cisterns that lie beneath Istanbul.
I arrive early to beat the crowds, but I have not arrived early enough: the tour groups have already arrived.
The Basilica Cistern would be eery if I weren't sharing it with hundreds of other people. Still, it's worth seeing.
In the far end of the cavern (the northwest corner) lies a fabulous Medusa head pillar.
Turkey Trip Report: http://bit.ly/ONKIN7