Basilica Cistern - Hotel Büyük Şahinler

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in the Depths of History
One of the magnificent ancient buildings of İstanbul is the Basilica  Cistern located in the southwest of Hagia Sofia. Constructed for  Justinianus I, the Byzantium Emperor (527-565), this big underground  water reservoir is called as “Yerebatan Cistern” among the public  because of the underground marble columns. As there used to be a  basilica in the place of the cistern, it is also called Basilica  Cistern.
The cistern is 140 m long, and 70 m wide, and covers a rectangular  area as a giant structure. Accessible with 52-step staircase, the  Cistern shelters 336 columns, each of which is 9 m high. Erected at 4.80  m intervals from one another the columns are composed of 12 rows, each  has 28 columns. The case-bay of the cistern is conveyed by the columns  through arches. Majority of the columns, most of which is understood to  have been compiled from the ancient structures and sculpted of various  kinds of marbles, is composed of a single part and one of it is composed  of two parts. The head of these columns bear different features in  parts. 98 of them reflect the Corinthian style and part of them reflect  the Dorian style. The cistern has 4.80 m high brick walls, and the floor  is covered by bricks, and plastered by a thick layer of brick dust  mortar for water tightness. Covering 9,800 sqm area in total, the  cistern has an estimated water storage capacity of 100,000 tons.
Medusa Heads
Except couple of the edged and grooved columns of the cistern,  majority of them are shaped as a cylinder. Two Medusa heads, which are  used as supports under the two columns at the northwest edge of the  cistern, are the great work of art from the Roman period. What attracts  most attention from the visitors is that the structure from which the  Medusa heads have been taken is unknown. The researchers often consider  that it has been brought for being used as supports to the column at the  time of construction of the cistern.  However, this has not prevented  myths for the heads of Medusa.
As the legend has it, Medusa is one of the three Gorgonas that are  female monsters in the underground world in Greek mythology.  The  snake-head Medusa, one of the three sisters, has the power of  gorgonising the ones that happen to look at her. Accordingly, Gorgone  paintings and sculptures were being used for protecting big structures  and special venues in that time. And putting the head of medusa in the  cistern was for protecting purposes. According to another rumour, Medusa  was a girl who boasted for her black eyes, long hair and beautiful  body. She loved Perseus, the son of Zeus. Athena was also in love with  Perseus and this made Medusa jealous. Therefore, Athena converted  medusa's hairs into snakes. Now, everybody that happened to look at  Medusa was gorgonised. Afterwards, Perseus headed off medusa and beat  many enemies by using her power.
Therefore, the head of Medusa was engraved on the handles of the  swords in Byzantium, and applied onto supports of the communes in  reverse (so that the onlookers would not be gorgonised). According to  another rumour, Medusa  gorgonised herself by looking sideways. For this  reason, the sculptor that made it generated Medusa in three different  positions depending on the reflection angles of the light. The Basilica  Cistern has been renovated repeatedly until today. It was repaired by  the Architect Kayserili Mehmet Ağa during the reign of Ahmad III  (M.1723) in the Ottoman Empire, followed by Sultan Abdulhamid II  (1876-1909) in the 19th century. There are 8 columns in front  of the northeast wall towards the middle of the cistern, and they were  exposed to the risk of breaking during the construction works in  1955-1960, thus each of them were surrounded by a thick layer of cement,  so they lost their previous feature though.
During the rule of Byzantium, the Basilica Cistern used to meet the  water needs and requirements of the great palace that covered a wide  area where the emperor resided, as well as the other denizens in the  region. After conquest of the city of Istanbul in 1453, it was used for a  little while and water was supplied to Topkapı Palace where the sultans  resided.. However, the Ottomans preferred running water over still  water, and established their own water facilities in the city. It is  understood that the cistern was not used thereafter and the western  world did not notice it until the mid XVI century. It was in 1544-1550  when P. Gyllius, a Dutch traveller that came to Istanbul for making  researches on Byzantium ruins was rediscovered and introduced to the  western world. In one of his researches, P. Gyllius, while roaming  around Hagia Sofia, managed to enter inside the cistern with a torch  carrying in his hand by proceeding from the stone steps that went  towards the underground from the backyard of a wooden building  surrounded by walls situated on a large underground cistern as he was  told that the householders there pulled water with buckets down inside  the large round holes similar to well on the ground floor of their  houses, and even fished there. P. Gyllius ranged around the cistern on a  rowing boat under harsh conditions, measured it and identified the  columns. The information acquired from his experience was published in  the travel book, and Gyllius had influence on many travelers.
The cistern was subject to repeated renovations since its  establishment. Renovated twice during the reign of the Ottoman Empire,  the cistern was repaired during the rule of Ahmed III (1723) by the  Architect Kayserili Mehmet Ağa for the first time. And the second repair  was made during the rule of Sultan Abdulhamid II (1876-1909). In  republican period, the cistern was cleaned by Istanbul Municipality in  1987, and was opened to visits for creating a route. Another extensive  cleaning was made in May 1994.
This mysterious venue is an integral part of the Istanbul itineraries  and has been visited -among others- by the US former President Bill  Clinton, Wim Kok the Prime Minister of the Netherlands, Lamberto Dini,  Former Minister of foreign Affairs of Italy, Göran Persson, Former Prime  Minister of Sweden and Thomas Klestil, Former prime Minister of Austria  until today.
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