Saturday, May 10, 2008

Istanbul. Basilica Cistern.


E
ery calm. That was the atmosphere I felt the very moment I descended into the Basilica Cistern. Lei and I paid it a visit just before lunch today.
The Basilica Cistern which is known in Turkish as Yerebatan Sarnıcı ("Yera-bah-tan Sar-nuh-juh") is the largest of several hundred ancient cisterns that still lie beneath Istanbul. Built in 532 AD by the Byzantine Emperor Justinian I, the cistern is located within walking distance of the Aya Sophia.
From above ground, all the marks the location of the Basilica Cistern is a small stone building that serves as the entrance and houses the ticket office. By the time we arrived at the Basilica Cistern, a sizeable queue had already formed and a rush of school kids was on it's way to join the line. Lei and I rushed forward to beat the crush of school kids.

After we bought our tickets, we descended the steps to the Cistern. The large, cavernous space is illuminated by dim red light, the air is damp and the temperature cool. There are raised wooden walkways to mark the path. I wanted to capture the eery, cave-like atmosphere so I decided to take my photos without the help of flash. What a challenge that turned out to be!




















The Basilica Cistern is so named because it has almost the same dimension as a cathedral - 143 by 65 metres and has a capacity of holding 80,000 cubic metres of water. The large underground space is broken up by a forest of 336 marble columns each 9 metres high. The columns are arranged in 12 rows each consisting of 28 columns.

Fish inhabit the waters of the Cistern and if not for them stirring up the water and causing ripples on the surface, the water is so still that it serves as a perfect mirror to reflect the columns.


At the far end of the Cistern are the two Medusa column bases - one that has an upside down head and the other a sideways head. Because it was so dark, the camera lens had to remain open for quite a few seconds in order for me to capture the images of the column bases. As a result, the images of people walking by took on a ghostly appearance.





















Another unusual column in the Cistern is the Peacock Eyed column - it has a hole in it with a worn circle around it. Placing your thumb in the hole and rotating your fingers 360 degrees is supposed to be lucky. I didn't stick my thumb in the column :-(







We made our way around the walkway once and then exited the Cistern. Above ground, it took us a few seconds for our eyes to adjust to the bright sun of Istanbul.

Next stop. Lunch....and I'm famished!!