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  ISTANBUL & MARMARA - Byzantian Cistern (Yerebatan)
 
Cistern is located nearby Hagia Sophia is the 6th century Byzantine underground Basilica cistern, with 335 massive Corinthian columns supporting the immense chamber’s fine brick vaulting. This is one of several buried into the city’s foundations, and the first to have been excavated and renovated. Thought to have been built in the 4th century by the emperor Constantine, then enlarged two centuries later, it was supplied with water from Belgrade Forest, amd supplied it to the Great Palace and Topkapi Palace. It fell into disuse and was then restored in 1987 with the mud and water removed, and narrow raised pathways providing easy access for visitors. It is the largest covered cistern in the city, measuring 140 by 70 metres. This cistern that was laid on an area of total 9.800 m2 has the capacity to store 100.000 tons of water. The great majority of the columns in the cistern, excluding the few cornered or grooved ones, are in the form of cylinder, among which the one that was embroidered with repeatedly engraved and raised pictures of Hen’s Eye, Slanting Branches and Tears particularly draw attention. As a matter of fact, this column has resemblance to the columns in the Triumphal Arch of Great Theodesius belonging to the IVth century (379-395) erected in the ‘Farum Tauri’ Square during the Byzantine Empire, the remains whereof are now found in today’s Beyazıt Square. According to a narration, the reason why the figures thereon resemble tears is that it was erected to the memory of hundreds of slaves who died during the construction of the Great Basilica and has ever told their tragedy throughout centuries. The part that goes through the middle section of the cistern and intrudes through the south-west wall as an irregular projection the length whereof is 40 meters and width 30 meters was actually the walls that were built during the restorations in earlier years so that they could bear the weight. As 40 columns remain behind these walls, 9 columns at the longest part and 2 at the narrowest, they are not in vision. The two Medusa heads used as pedestals at the bottom of the two columns in the north-west corner of the cistern are of the masterpieces of the Roman Cagi Art of Statuary. Although there is no certain proof as to from which building these heads pertaining to IVth century – which are watched by visitors in great admiration - were taken, it is generally agreed by researchers that they were taken from an antique building pertaining to the Young Roman Age. Yet, although there seems to be no written evidence explaining that they were used as pedestals of columns, it is again generally certified by researchers that the Medusa heads were used only because they were needed as the pedestals of columns in the construction of the Cistern. The Underground Cistern, which covered a large area during the Byzantine Empire and provided water to the great palace, where the emperors lived, and the vicinity, was used for a further while after the conquest of Istanbul by the Ottomans in 1453 and the gardens of Topkapı Palace were irrigated with the water from the cistern. It is understood that the Ottomans, who preferred running water to still water, did not use the cistern after they had established their own water facilities. The cistern remained unknown to the West until mid-XVI. century. Then the cistern was discovered by P. Gyllius, a Dutch traveler, who visited Istanbul in 1544-1550 with a view to studying the remains of the Byzantine, and introduced to the west by him. In one of his researches, when - while he was walking around Ayasofya - P. Gyllius was told that the homefolk of the houses in the vicinity drew water from the large round well-like holes found in their basements with the buckets they dropped down and that they even caught fish, he managed to go down into the cistern armed with a torch through the stone steps in the garden of a wooden house, which was surrounded with walls, which was found upon a large underground cistern. Under very difficult conditions, P. Gyllius managed to sail around in the cistern and measured it and witnessed the columns. P. Gyllius, who wrote his discoveries and knowledge in his published travelogue, impressed a great number of travelers. Thereupon, all the travelers that visited Istanbul throughout centuries could not afford not to see this magnificent work.
     
 
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