The name of this subterranean structure derives from a large public square on the First Hill of Constantinople, the Stoa Basilica, beneath which it was originally constructed. According to ancient historians, Emperor Constantine constructed a structure which was later rebuilt and enlarged by Emperor Justinian after the Nika riots of 532. The enlarged cistern provided water for the Great Palace of Constantinople and other buildings on the First Hill, and continued to provide water to the Topkapi Palace after the Ottoman conquest in 1453 and into modern times.
This cathedral-sized cistern is an underground chamber approximately 143 metres (470 ft) by 65 metres (210 ft) - about 9,800 square metres (105,000 sq ft) in area - capable of holding 80,000 cubic metres (2,800,000 cu ft) of water. The ceiling is supported by a forest of 336 marble columns, each 9 metres (30 ft) high, arranged in 12 rows of 28 columns spaced 4.9 metres (16 ft) apart. The capitals of the columns are mainly Ionic and Corinthian styles, with the exception of a few Doric style with no engravings.
The cistern is surrounded by a firebrick wall with a thickness of 4 metres (13 ft) and coated with a waterproofing mortar. The cistern's water was provided from the Belgrade Woods—which lie 19 kilometres (12 mi) north of the city—via aqueducts built by the Emperor Justinian.
Cracks to masonry and damaged columns were repaired in 1968, with additional restoration in 1985 by the Istanbul Metropolitan Museum; the cistern was opened to the public on 9 September 1987.
|Located in the northwest corner of the cistern, the bases of two columns reuse blocks carved with the visage of Medusa. The origin of the two heads is unknown, though it is thought that the heads were brought to the cistern after being removed from a building of the late Roman period. Tradition has it that the blocks are oriented sideways and inverted in order to negate the power of the Gorgons' gaze.
The cistern was used as a location for the 1963 James Bond film From Russia with Love. In the film, it is referred to as being constructed by the Emperor Constantine, with no reference to Justinian. Its location is a considerable distance from the Soviet (now Russian) consulate, which is located in Beyoğlu, the newer "European" section of Istanbul, on the other side of the Golden Horn.
The finale of the 2009 film The International takes place in a fantasy amalgam of the Old City, depicting the Basilica Cistern as laying beneath the Sultan Ahmed Mosque -which, in the film, is directly adjacent to the Süleymaniye Mosque.
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