Istanbul is one of the rare cities which has features that can surprise people at any glance, both above and below ground. Many tourist travel to Istanbul unaware of what they are missing in its depths. However, a completely unique history and life awaits to be discovered with all the secrets of the ‘’Istanbul underground’’. Among these, the most spectacular and impressive structures that have survived to the present day are underground cisterns.
History of Istanbul’s Cisterns
Undoubtedly, a city that has hosted important empires like Istanbul had numerous enviable features. However, Constantinople city is one of the most sieged cities in history. For this reason, the city had some vital problems in proportion to its majesty. The most critical of these was the provision of water to the city. Prokopios (lived between 500-563 AD), the famous historian of the Byzantine era, said: “…. The sea forms a crown around the city. Istanbul is a city created and brought to life by the sea. ” Although Istanbul benefited from all the generosity of the sea, it was always a difficult problem to solve when it comes to supplying drinking water in the city built on rocks. The sieges sometimes took months or even years. There were not enough fresh water resources in the city. For this reason, Byzantines built huge cisterns as a solution. The number of cisterns in Istanbul is estimated to be around 200 today and approximately 1,000,000 cubic meters of water were provided.
Let’s have a look at the top 3 amazing cisterns of Istanbul
Theodosius Cistern aka Şerefiye Cistern
Theodosius Cistern was collecting water fed from the so-called Galler aqueduct. This underground cistern, measuring 45 m x 25 m, has 32 marble columns, approximately each is 9 meters long, and supports a roof made of bricks. The Şerefiye Cistern, which covers an area of 1125 square meters and contains 32 marble columns, nine meters high, is smaller than other cisterns, but is approximately 100 years larger than the Basilica Cistern built in 532.
Yerebatan Cistern aka Underground Basilica
Basilica Cistern is known to be the third most visited museums in Turkey. The cistern, built by the Byzantine Emperor Justinian the First (527-565), fascinates people even today. It is so magnificent with its 336 columns that it is known as the Basilica Palace among the people because it resembles a palace. Covering an area of 9800 square meters, the cistern can store about 80 thousand cubic meters of water. The cistern is a great treasure in terms of marble material. The column heads have different styles and some are made exculusively for the cistern. The walls of the cistern made of bricks are 5 meters thick. Khorasan mortar (Brick Powder Mortar) was laid on the floor and made the walls waterproof. This cistern met the water needs of the emperor’s palace, which occupied a large area, and other residents in the region, known as Sultanahmet during the Byzantine period. After the conquest of Istanbul, the gardens of Topkapı Palace also benefited from the water of this place.
Binbirdirek Cistern, one of the largest cisterns in Istanbul, is one of the structures dating back to the Byzantine period. According to historical sources, the cistern was built in the 4th century, to the west of Sultanahmet Square today. There are 224 columns in total in the cistern built to meet the water needs of the city during the Byzantine period and 212 of these columns have survived to the present day. Binbirdirek Cistern, which was used as a silk workshop in the Ottoman period, can be visited as a museum today. As well as a place where various invitations and organizations are held.
Tour Guide to Istanbul’s Cisterns
I love to explore Istanbul’s hidden treasures like cisterns. Many of them are not as famous as the ones I mentioned in this article. Let’s unveil Istanbul’s cisterns together. You can contact me to learn more on cisterns of Istanbul and write to me to book professional licensed tour guide in Istanbul. See you soon, Hasan Gülday.