Istanbul's Underground Secret
So you've been to the Blue Mosque, and you've haggled at the Grand Bazaar. But did you know that Istanbul's best kept secret is hidden right underneath your own two feet?
Deep beneath Istanbul's cobbled passages, there is an ancient cistern dating back from the Roman days of the Byzantine emperor Justinian. It is known as Yerebatan Sarnici, or the Sunken Cistern. Before its conversion to an underground cistern, it was a colossal Basilica with gardens facing Aya Sofya. Stepping down to the humid cistern today, you can almost imagine the blooms around the symmetrical columns on a warm summery day centuries ago.
Today, the cistern is home to a massive number of fish, which swim around its 336 marble columns as visitors mill by on rather slippery walkways. The cistern is completely quiet, with the occasional drip drip of water from above. Its peace was incredibly welcome as I walked past the columns; definitely a contrast to Istanbul's chaos!
Two items break the architectural symmetry of the sunken cistern: the Hen's Eye column, painted in a mossy green hue (most of its colour today is probably moss too), and the Medusa pedestals, at the very far-left corner of the cistern. These pedestals are in an inverted position, and the reason behind this still mystifies historians worldwide.
The Cistern opens daily from 9am til 5pm (except for religious holidays), and costs a mere 10 Turkish Lira. It is one of Istanbul's lesser known attractions, but definitely one you'll enjoy!