Basilica Cistern: After a five-year makeover, the magnificent underground world of ancient water reopens in Istanbul

The huge ancient Basilica Cistern (or Basilica Cisterna) beneath the city of Istanbul has reopened after a five-year makeover. It was built for the capital of his Eastern Roman Empire.

The Basilica Cistern is the largest of several hundred ancient cisterns that lie beneath the popular Turkish city of Istanbul. The amazing metamorphosis has made this site a magnificent haven of sound and light underground.

The Basilica Cistern was built in 542 AD during the reign of Byzantine Emperor Justinian I. Location wise, it is 150 meters southwest of Hagia Sophia on the historic Sarayburnu peninsula. Now it is maintained with little water so that the public can access it from the inside.

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Historians have said it was once part of a network of over 100 cisterns started by the Romans. They were later supplemented by the Byzantines and the Ottomans. These systems were intended to supply the city and its palaces with running water.

Due to its location under a large public square on the first hill of Constantinople, the Basilica Stoa, it was called Basilica. In early Roman times, a large basilica stood in its place. It is said to have been built between the 3rd and 4th centuries.

If the claims are to be believed, around 7,000 slaves participated in the construction of the cistern.

Historians have claimed that the basilica contained gardens, surrounded by a colonnade and facing Hagia Sophia.

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The site was partially closed for restoration in 2017. It was feared that the basilica would collapse in case the slightest jolt from an earthquake rocked Istanbul. It has undergone several restorations since its foundation.

Aysen Kaya, deputy head of the municipality’s heritage department, said, “By scraping away the added layers of cement, we brought the bricks up to date. Kaya also pointed out that two pipes were exposed by the latest work: one that brought water.

The Basilica Cistern could store nearly 80,000 liters (21,000 gallons) of water. The feat helped protect the Byzantines from the summer drought.

(With agency contributions)

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