Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Hidden Byzantium...

The Basilica Cistern in Istanbul is an extraordinary feat of Byzantine engineering.     It was begun in 532 by the Emperor Justinian, and the engineers used a site where there had been an even earlier cistern.     The Basilica Cistern ensured the City (the Byzantine capital of Constantinople) and the Imperial Palace had a constant supply of fresh water.    It has survived the ravages of time and conquest.    Wandering about Istanbul near Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque, it's hard to imagine the hidden cistern beneath your feet.   It's vast!  Here are some pictures my husband took on our visit to Istanbul.     The first one shows some of the columns that support the roof.   If they look classical in design, that's because they are classical, most of them being taken from earlier Roman buildings.    (An early example of recycling.)  It's cool in the cistern, and dark, and VERY quiet.  The columns seem to march off into infinity, it's like stepping into the hall of a subterranean king. 

   

Down there you have no idea that there is a thriving and bustling city overhead. The bases of some of the columns show heads that have come to us from Greek mythology.    You can find the Medusa...



The day we visited, shoals of fish were gliding through the water, we kept seeing flashes of gold and black and white, eerie shadows constantly shifting.  The Basilica Cistern is very inspiring, as soon as we went down the steps to see it, I knew that a scene in the second Palace Bride novel would have to be set there.

You can see the Basilica Cistern on this map of medieval Constantinople which shows part of the Great Palace.   You can find the cistern towards the top of the map.   Appologies for the blurriness of the image, I am not sure how to sharpen it.


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