Thursday, 19 July 2012

From Istanbul, With Love

Dun da la dun dun dun da, dun da la dun dun da, dun de la dun dun da, DADAH de la Dah! (The James Bond theme, in case you missed it).

Author: Gun Powder Ma. Reproduced under GNU license.
The tune was going round in my head as we descended into the magnificent space that forms the Basilica Cistern (Yerebatan Sarayı) in Istanbul.  I could imagine paddling my boat in the time honoured fashion of the great literary spies – almost silently just the occasional splosh of water as I mishandle the oar, even the quietest whisper echoing under the vaults - past the Medusa heads that act as column supports (though neither is the right way up), through the forest of columns that support the vaulted ceiling. We walked along the platforms put in to allow tourists to make their own way around, instead of being ferried as they were pre-1985, and watched the placid goldfish slowly drifting in the shallow water.


Author: dpnuevo. Reproduced under GNU license
The cistern can hold up to 100,000 tonnes of water and was fed by viaduct from Belgrade Forest. The Byzantine Emperor Justinian I was responsible for the cistern’s creation in order to feed the city with water.  The cistern was later used to water the garden of Topkapi Palace. Whatever its use – cistern, a place for spies to hang out or concert hall – the cistern has an air of faded grandeur and romanticism. The columns are a mis-match, a mixture of Ionic, Doric and Corinthian styles, carved from marbles and granite; a marriage of parts to produce a thing of beauty.

It is very atmospheric; especially if you were as lucky as us to enter when there are few other tourists present. The lighting casts shadows and reflections that ignite the imagination particularly if you can block out the music quietly trilling in the background. It is incredible to think that all this effort was made just for a place to store water. 

The Basilica Cistern can be found in the Sultanhmet district of Istanbul, close to the Hagia Sofia and Topkapi Palace. Opening hours are 09.00 to 17.30 (18.30 Apr - Sept) and the entrance fee is 10TL. 

Do not miss it, it is my favourite place in Istanbul.

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