Basilica Cistern He built for his capital Eastern Roman Empire In modern times Istanbul has reopened after a five-year makeover that transformed a water storage site into a refreshingly cool haven of underground sound and light.
Built in 542 AD near Hagia Sophia Mosque — then a cathedral — the basilica was part of a network of over 100 cisterns once commissioned by Romans and completed by the Byzantines and Turk To supply the city and its palaces with running water.
Known in Turkish as Yerebatan Sarnici (“The Cistercian Underground”), its rows of columns surrounded by water gained fame on the silver screen when they appeared in a scene in the 1963 James Bond film “From Russia with Love”. Featured it.
But the city had to partially close the site for restoration in 2017, fearing that the basilica could crumble if the slightest earthquake struck Istanbul.
since it’s completely closed coronavirus pandemic Aysen Kaya, deputy head of the municipality’s heritage department, said that in 2020, workers have been allowed to strengthen and clean the 138-metre x 65-metre (453-foot by 213-foot) Jal Mahal.
Steel rods were strung in the corners of the 336 columns holding up the underground roof, arranged in 12 rows of 28.
The pink brick walls have also been cleared of traces of the past, less elegant renovation efforts.
“By removing the extra layers of cement, we keep the bricks up to date,” Kaya said. He pointed to two pipes uncovered by the latest work: one that brought water to the Hagia Sophia, and another to a palace that stood before the sultans, building the Topkapi Harem next door.
The basilica cistern can store about 80,000 liters (21,000 gallons) of water, which runs down aqueducts 19 kilometers north of the mountains.
The feat helped save the Byzantines from the summer drought.
The renovation also included a lower footbridge over the water, bringing tourists within half a meter of its surface. And with better lighting, the floor is now visible for the first time.
Beyond the structural changes, the basilica has been imbued with colored lights with a mystical, almost spiritual experience that changes people’s perspectives and reveals new details.
A famous Medusa head that adorns the two corner pillars – carved, according to legend, so as not to stone those who gaze with it – now looks even more vivid and eerie.
In the center of the 1,500-year-old structure, a triumph of the arts and techniques of its time, modern works have been incorporated for added effect, such as a grasping hand emerging from the water.
A translucent jellyfish artwork almost seems to dance between the pillars, lit up with a rainbow of colors and illuminating the dark hall with a gentle glow.
“We wanted a lighting installation that didn’t take anything away from the mystical atmosphere of the place,” Kaya said.
The queue of tourists snaking their way to the entrance to the pool under the hot Istanbul sun is a testament to the success of the restoration.
“Absolutely unbelievable. I mean, totally unique,” said British visitor Nick Altati, 40, struggling to put his astonishment into words.
“I’ve never seen a place like this before. And it will stay with me for a very long time.”