16 July 2013

June 7: Istanbul, the Basilica Cistern

The area we stand in today in Istanbul was fought over, defended, lost and conquered many times over the centuries. It is an ancient land. The walled city of Constantinople needed a safe water supply, not only for ordinary living, but for times of siege. Many cisterns were built under the city for water storage.

We were fortunate to visit the Basilia Cistern. We walked down dark, wet, and crumbly steps to the depths of the cistern. The domed ceiling is high above us. Low lights help us navigate the platforms above the water.


This cistern can hold up to 100,000 tons of water. The water came via aqueduct from the Belgrade Forest, 12 miles away. The weight of the round arches and vaults of the cistern is held by 336 marble columns, each 30 feet tall.

This is what it was like walking around inside:


At the base of two of the columns are Medusa heads. The origin of these heads are unknown, but they were probably re-purposed from a late Roman period building. (In fact, most of the columns themselves were probably used in other structures previously.)

It is thought that the Medusa head is upside down to negate the power of the Gorgon's gaze.


This Medusa head is on its side:


One last look at the cool, damp, dark cistern.


Lunch today is on Odysseys. Ali took us to the Golden Cup, within walking distance of the Basilica Cistern. We had a vegetable pastry, eggplant stuffed with rice, a few fried potatoes, and a dessert made with honey and semolina.

We are beginning to realize that the food in Turkey is really healthy. Lots and lots of fresh vegetables, both raw and cooked. Some meat - lamb, beef, or chicken - but not a lot. Olive oil always on the table instead of butter. Small portions. Light desserts. A common street food was corn on the cob, served without butter. Displays of fresh vegetables at stands everywhere. These guys eat healthy! Most of the locals were not overweight. The population would be totally healthy if they did not smoke a lot of cigarettes and other tobaccos.

We enjoyed our rest and the food in the cool restaurant. Then, it's off to the Blue Mosque.

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