Travels in Turkey: Underground Temple

the “killer” shot

When visiting another country, we have to decide: Do we drink the water or not? For Turkey, travel guides often advise buying bottled water. We followed that advice and went a step further—lugging a charcoal-filter pumping system with us. Nothing spoils a vacation faster than a case of Montezuma’s Revenge. On the other hand, I have a friend who always drinks the water wherever she goes—including Turkey—and never gets sick. I think it depends on your constitution. Cast-iron digestive system—go for it. Otherwise, err on the side of caution.

But that’s not exactly the subject of this post although there is drinking water involved. So to get to the point, I’d like to introduce you to Istanbul’s Basilica Cistern.

abstract

The largest of Istanbul’s underground cisterns, it was built in 542 AD by Byzantine Emperor Justinian I (way back when Istanbul was Constantinople), and was capable of holding 100,000 tons of water, which arrived via two aqueducts from a source in the Belgrade Forest (about 19 kilometers away). Back in the day, the water level was a lot higher, and citizens retrieved their water through large, round, well-like holes in the ceiling of the cistern. Justinian may have thought this oversized well, which supplied water to his palace, was pretty slick, but future conquerors—the Ottomans—not so much. By some accounts, they preferred running water, so the cistern system fell into disrepair.

Everybody pretty much forgot it was there until 1545, when a Frenchman who was researching Byzantine antiquities noticed that some residents got their water (and sometimes caught fish) by lowering buckets through holes in their basements. He also found an entrance at the back of someone’s garden, and steps leading down into the cistern.

The chamber was alternately restored and ignored over the years, and even used as a dump for junk (and corpses). Then in 1987 Turkish authorities realized what a great tourist attraction it would be and cleaned it up, pumping out tons of mud and dirty water and building a walkway around the interior perimeter.

Peacock feathers or tear drops? A unique column from the Arch of Theodosius

Although it’s not in somebody’s garden these days, the cistern entrance is still not that obvious. Just go to the northern end of the Hippodrome, across the street from Hagia Sophia and opposite the yellow building of the Tourist Police, and look for the queue in front of an inconspicuous ticket booth. Once you’ve paid your ten Turkish lira, follow the 52 stone steps leading down into the chamber.

I had seen pictures, but nothing prepared me for actually viewing it firsthand. A forest of 332 marble columns and their watery reflections mesmerized me, and it was hard to focus on the task at hand—getting that one killer photo. After setting up my camera and tripod as inconspicuously as possible, I waited patiently for the hoards of people swirling around me to snap their pics and move on. Eventually, a space opened up. I moved in and took a quick series of shots: f11-22 for maximum depth of field (sharpness), and shutter speeds ranging from 3 to 15 seconds.

Just a note here: tripods are actually not allowed, although in my defense, I didn’t know that at first (if there was a sign, I didn’t see it, officer. Honest). I found out when I was later asked, politely, to put it away, and I can see the reasoning. Lots of people crowding around (even groups of schoolchildren on outings), and it’s too easy to trip over extended tripod legs. Again, in my defense, I kept the tripod legs in a very narrow stance, and blocked them with my legs during the few minutes I was shooting.

Getting that shot was the highlight for me, but there was more to see. A dozen or so merchants have set up shop just below the entry steps, selling art, kitschy souvenirs, photos of you dressed in sultan/harem costumes (which they supply), and food. There are fish swimming in the shallow water, and musical concerts are sometimes held here (the acoustics must be awesome).

If you’re into ancient architecture, it’s interesting to note that the cross-vaulted ceiling is made of brick, and the column tops (capitals) are from different periods: most Corinthian, some Doric. Even the columns were gathered from various ruined buildings. So although it’s a magnificent feat of engineering, it was, in fact, cobbled together.

Stone-faced Medusa. Not so scary anymore, is she.

Two of the cobbled parts (and no one knows where they came from) are blocks carved as the head of Medusa—that gorgon whose unruly hairdo—a mass of writhing snakes—could turn a man to stone with one glance. Both blocks support columns. One head is planted upside down, the other sideways (the why of that is also a mystery).

Since you’ve read this far, here’s your reward—a bit of movie trivia. In “From Russia With Love,” James Bond (Sean Connery) gets away by rowing a boat through the Basilica Cistern.

Categories: Architecture, culture, History, Photography, Stock Photography, Travel, Travel: Turkey | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Post navigation

8 thoughts on “Travels in Turkey: Underground Temple

  1. Loved it – more please!

    Like

  2. Aracile Saromo

    Seeing a current update of history always thrills me and through your pictures you made me travel the world as well, thanks.

    Like

    • That’s my aim, Aracile, to take people along on my travels, through photography and the written word. I’m thrilled, too, that you like my post.

      Like

  3. James

    Fascinating stuff. I wonder what you’ll come up with from future trips. Are you buying a monopod?

    Like

    • Thank you, Jim. It’s always a pleasure when someone finds the backstory of a place as fascinating as I do. No doubt there will be good stuff from other trips, but I am not nearly done with Turkey yet (I may never be done. The country has captured my imagination ever since my initial visit there when I was a mere lass [hint: it involves slave traders, dusty bus rides and an earthquake]). As for the monopod, I’ve heard that they are equally as unwelcomed as tripods by museum guards. Plus I doubt I’m steady enough to use one. I suppose there’s always the trusty beanbag.

      Like

  4. It looks as though we followed a similar path on our Turkey travels! Some great posts on here🙂

    Like

    • It does, doesn’t it. I plan on looking for more of your posts about Turkey. And thank you. I am nowhere near done with the country. i haven’t even done a Grand Bazaar post yet, or the Whirling Dervishes, or so many other places and sights and adventures🙂

      Like

Your feedback is appreciated. Speak.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at WordPress.com.

Captured by Aishwarya

Thoughts captured by my pen, images captured by my cam

Recipe in a Bottle

Connecting to Friends, Old and New, Through Recipes, Gardens, and Dinner Parties

Life in Minutes

Living in the moment

GINGERSHOUTS

Set your thoughts free

China Icons - your guide to life, work and travel in China

Natural wonders, jaw-dropping engineering, delicious food, bustling cities. Ancient temples, glamorous fashionistas, visionary thinkers. This is the site to meet China's icons - past, present and still to come

The Showers of Blessing

Giving and Receiving Blessings

Bon Voyage

Traveler & photographer with a passion for everything

TravellersPlanet

Jennifer Crites

Attila Ovari

Loving Life and Inspiring Others

kelzbelzphotography

My journey - The good, bad and the ugly

The New 3 Rs: Retire, Recharge, Reconnect

What I'm going to do for the rest of my life.

Juju Films

Cutting edge Multimedia Programming

Gotta Find a Home

Conversations with Street People

%d bloggers like this: