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The Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia are two of the most recognised and photographed buildings in the world. It’s not hard to understand why - from the Bosphorus, the minarets of the Blue Mosque can be clearly seen, dominating Istanbul’s skyline. Opposite to the mosque, on the far side of Sultanahmet Square, the Hagia Sophia continues to intrigue visitors with its varied and somewhat colourful past. It has been a mosque, as well as a Christian church and its unique blend of styles, a fusion of European and Asian architecture, is somewhat fitting given the location of the city it has come to represent.
But just 150m from the Hagia Sophia, hidden from most visitors’ eyes, is the Basilica Cistern – a unique underground waterway originally built by the Emperor Justinian in 532 A.D. and star of today’s homepage. The cistern was originally used to store water for the Great Palace of Constantinople and, later on, the Topkapi Palace. 80,000 cubic metres of water were once held here, which explains the cistern’s sheer size, with a roof that is 65m wide and 143m long! The roof is supported by 336 columns arranged in 12 rows, including two columns with Medusa heads carved into the supporting blocks and one featuring a teardrop design.
The cistern was seemingly forgotten for several centuries, until it was rediscovered by Petrus Gyllius in 1545, but was then used by the Ottomans for storage! However, in more recent times, it’s been renovated and opened to the public and even starred in a James Bond film (From Russia With Love, starring original Bond Sean Connery).
I did get to see the Cistern once when I was in Istanbul for a business trip. I really liked the whole trip, since there are actually a lot to see there.
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