Wednesday, August 13, 2008

5 places i love - #3 basilica cistern, istanbul

down underneath the busy streets of istanbul, very close to the ayasofya, is the basilica cistern. although in the height of the summer, there can be a lot of people there, all escaping the heat down into the cool, mysterious depths, it is a marvelous place. it's a little bit spooky and dark and the way they've lit it and the slightly chilling new age music that's playing only lend to this delicious feeling of spookiness.
i recently saw one of the early james bond films where sean connery was still bond and there is a scene that takes place in the basilica cistern. it was originally built by constantine and then restored and enlarged by justinian in 532. it provided the royal palaces with water, even after the ottomans took constantinople in 1453 and clear up to modern times. there are marvelous columns (i've never counted how many) of all kinds, i suppose they were repurposed from old greek and roman buildings here and there. some are more elaborate than others, but it lends to the charm of the place.
two of the columns have a medusa head at their base. one is upside down and the one below is on its side. there's no adequate explanation for their presence there and the accounts i've read have no real idea where they came from. i'm not an archeologist but to me, it seems they were used because they were an available material at the time of building and the matter of their placement was one of engineering convenience. but perhaps i'm not romantic or imaginative enough to read some other meaning into them. they are very cool nonetheless.
it's quite a large chamber and there's absolutely no hint of it from the surface, you can walk along the streets with no clue whatsoever that it's there. i quite love the idea of it being there beneath the feet of the busy people above, languishing in its cool, mysterious depths and no doubt holding many secrets and stories.

1 comment:

tangobaby said...

Damn! Those medusa heads are so cool! I love this post. Do I sound like a broken record yet?

I love this post. Really and truly I do.

I also like a slightly creepy place and this one seems perfect for making up stories and fantasies. Will you be revisiting this place in October?