Suitcase and World: A Really Big Underground Pool. Yerebatan Sarayı.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

A Really Big Underground Pool. Yerebatan Sarayı.

Located stone's throw from both the Aya Sophia and Sultanahmet Cami is another of Istanbul's Historic treasures. Known in Turkish as *Yerebatan Sarayı* which translates as *Sunken Palace*, the Basilica Cistern is the largest of several hundred ancient cisterns that lie beneath the city and supplied water to its ancient residents. The cistern was built in the 6th century during the reign of Byzantine Emperor Justinian I. It gets its name from a large public square, the Stoa Basilica, beneath which it was originally constructed.

The ticket booth is at street level.  We bought two tickets and took the stairs down.  As we descended, the air felt increasingly damp and you could smell the stale water. 

I remember coming here in 2008 and told Bro a bit about it as we stood in line waiting to buy our entry tickets. But I didn't want to give it all away because it's quite something to experience just how massive this cistern is.

I was utterly shocked to be greeted, at the bottom of the steps, by of all things - a touristy photo booth.  You know, the kind where you can dress up as some old time character and have your photo taken.  So, so tacky!  This was most definitely NOT here in 2008!  Put this back on the street, people!

Except for the glow from the red lights and a few lights shining on the walkway, it's dark here.....much too dark to take photos without flash but I prefer to not use flash so the photos are a bit blurry.  Wherever I could, I used the wooden hand railing to support my camera on.

A raised path takes you around the cistern so we just walked along, stopping to gaze at the view of the forest of columns that make up this place.

The cistern measures approximately 138 meters (453 feet) by 64.6 meters (212 feet) and is capable of holding 80,000 cubic metres (2,800,000 cu feet) of water. The ceiling is supported by 336 marble columns, each 9 meters (30 feet) tall, arranged in 12 rows of 28 columns each spaced 4.9 meters (16 feet) apart. The capitals of the columns are mainly Ionic and Corinthian styles, with the exception of a few Doric style with no engravings.

The one thing that you will notice as you walk through the cistern is that the columns don't all match. That's because the majority of them were most likely recycled from the ruins of older buildings, brought to Constantinople from various parts of the empire, together with those that were used in the construction of Aya Sophia. They are carved and engraved out of various types of marble and granite. Imagine the daunting task that the Byzantine engineers had to face to build this most impressive of underground pools.

The cistern is fully surrounded by a firebrick wall that is 4 meters (13 feet) thick and is coated with a waterproofing mortar. The Basilica Cistern's water came from the Eğrikapı Water Distribution Center in the Belgrade Forest, which is located about 19 kilometers (12 miles) north of the city.  The water reached the cistern via two Aqueducts - the 971 meters (3,186 feet) long Valens (Bozdoğan) Aqueduct, and the 115.45 meters (378.8 feet) long Mağlova Aqueduct.

The weight of the cistern lies on the columns by means of the cross-shaped vaults and round arches of its roof.

Bro didn't believe me when I told him that fish live in the water here....until I showed him.

Before we left, I had to make sure to take Bro to see the three most unusual columns in the cistern.  The first is the one shown in the photo below which is commonly known as the Hen's Eye column after the pattern of its relief work which supposedly depict the eyes of a hen, slanted branches, and tears.  Ancient texts suggest that the tears on the column pay tribute to the hundreds of slaves who died during the construction of the Basilica Cistern. I don't see it but use your imagination, I guess. 

The other two are  truly odd. Both have a base that is the head of Medusa. In one column, her head is upside down and on the other, her head is turned sideways and the column is resting on one of her ears. I've never been able to find explanation for either column.

Bro was pretty quiet during most of our walk but I know that Bro was in awe of it all as even he was duly impressed by its sheer size.  Most certainly, he's never seen anything like the Basilica Cistern before!