|Richard & Stacy's Round the World Trip 2001|
The Basilica Cistern and other cisterns like it (for example, the Cistern of 1,001 Columns) were built in the Byzantine era, many by Justinian I in the 6th Century. Virtually all water for the Byzantine city was supplied by these cisterns. A stone walkway has been installed (it seems too modern and smooth to be original) to allow visitors to walk through the entire length of the vast chamber. The Basilica Cistern today is virtually empty; only a couple of feet of water line the bottom. Full, the cistern must have held hundreds of thousands of gallons - the chambers are vast, tall and very dark. The camera flash was ill equipped to fill in the darkness between the many columns.
Toward the back of the cistern (after lots of walking) there is an alcove - the ceiling is full height, but the walls are closer. There's a theory that the Byzantine-era builders of the cistern wanted to build a shrine to the water nymphs for good luck. The only evidence of anything unusual are two column bases - each base has the face of a medusa on it. Curiously, one is sideways and the other upside down. The presumption (according to literature in the cistern) is that these faces were part of another building before the cistern was built and were subsequently re-used in the construction of the cistern. Recycling in the 6th century?
There is a tale told about the cisterns, that when Mehmet II captured what was then Constantinople, the Ottomans were unaware of the cisterns beneath the city. The cisterns were lost for over a hundred years until someone decided to explore a hole in the basement of some residences in the city where a bucket lowered down into it would return with water and the occasional fish...