Istanbul’s Mysterious Basilica Cistern

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Hidden beneath the streets of Istanbul is the astonishing, hauntingly beautiful Basilica Cistern, a 6th-century relic that was almost lost to time. Step into its shadowy depths with Karine Hagen to explore this cavernous basin’s many secrets.

image/text credit: Viking Ocean Cruises

The entrance to the Basilica Cistern is in the Sultanahmet region, next to Haghia Sophia. The cistern was built during the reign of Emperor Justinian I in 532 to meet the water needs of the Palace.

Make sure you walk all the way to the far left-hand corner of the cistern, to see the two Medusa heads (see pictures of the Basilica Cistern). Both heads are casually used as column bases; one positioned upside down, the other tilted to the side.

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The Basilica Cistern was given its name for the reason of being located under the Stoa Basilica. Both their positioning as their origin remain a mystery up till now, although rumor has it that they were recycled form an antique building of the late Roman period.