It’s easy to pass by the Basilica Cistern, as I have at least 15 or 20 times. But with its super-convenient location at the top of SultanAhmet Square, there’s no reason to miss this feat of ancient engineering.
Built by the Byzantines 1,500 years ago, the cistern stored water brought by aquaduct from the Belgrade Forest 19 kilometres away.
It was rediscovered as recently as 1500 by a French traveler curious about reports of locals who fished from their cellars.
Now anyone with at least 15 minutes and the same amount of lira to spare can wander past the fat fish through an area the size of two football fields supported by 336 pillars that were – incredibly – taken from even earlier buildings.
This enviro-friendly reusing includes two blocks carved with Medusa’s snakey head. One is upside down and one is sideways, whether to protect onlookers from her stoney gaze or just from a lackadaisical attitude to recycled column placement it’s hard to tell.
Either way, they built things to last. Go take a look if you dare.