Basilica Cistern is the largest and most magnificent covered cistern in Istanbul. The unassuming entrance is through a building to the west of Hagia Sophia Square. Basilica Cistern was named for a nearby basilica built to supply water to palaces in the vicinity.
The Basilica’s cross-vaulted brick ceiling is a “forest” of 336 columns arranged in 12 rows of 28 each. The columns have Corinthian style capitals. Water drips from the ceiling and fish are swimming in the groundwater. When restored in 1987 the Cistern revealed the original brick pavement and two fascinating marble Medusa heads at the base of two of the columns.
The positioning of the superb Medusa heads prevents viewers from getting the Medusa curse by looking at them. In the ancient Greek myth “Medusa was one of the three underground Gorgona Giant’s Sisters – Stheno, Euryale, and Medusa.
Of three sisters only Medusa was mortal. She had snakes for hair and her eyes possessed the power to transform those who looked at her into stone.” Perseus cut off Medusa’s head and presented it to Athena. “He used his polished shield as a mirror to view the Medusa head indirectly, negating the power of her gaze.”
I ended the day with a visit to Topkapı Palace which was the primary residence of the Ottoman Sultans for 400 of their 624-year reign. The opulent palace was a setting for state occasions and royal entertainment and now has important holy relics of the Muslim world. Topkapı Palace is among Istanbul’s historic areas that became UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
I mistakenly took the tram all the way to the Topkapi stop, going waaaaay out-of-the-way. Topkapi Palace is in Sultanhamet near Sofia Hagia cleverly surrounded by a stone wall and set back from the street. The palace is so large it’s difficult to get a good photo of the complete exterior. After realizing my mistake (lost again) I walked around the ancient Roman walls near the Topkapi tram station and had lunch before heading back to tour the palace.
Lunch was delightful and peaceful. There were several Muslim families with their children in the restaurant. Everyone was friendly. On the tram ride back to Topkapi Palace I chatted with an interesting young Turkish student. He enjoyed practicing his English and was very animated.
During this last week I’ve explored so much of Istanbul using public transportation – efficient and an incredible bargain! Tonight I’m excited about going to a Whirling Dervishes dance performance at the Hodjapasha Dance Center near my hotel.
Saturday I was lucky to get a ticket to a Cirque Du Soleil performance – Michael Jackson The Immortal World Tour – which opens at Istanbul’s Ülker Arena tonight, March 15th. The performance leaves Istanbul and heads to the UK and France on March 18th. The only complication is finding the venue – Ülker Arena – which is far away and involves taking a tram, ferry, and a bus to a completely new area of Istanbul. I will leave early giving myself plenty of time to get lost along the way!
Next Wednesday my first two weeks of accommodation here in Istanbul expire so I will travel to Datça. The Datça Peninsula is somewhat isolated on a national reserve along a peninsula between the Aegean and Mediterranean Seas. I will fly from Istanbul to Dalaman Airport and then take a bus to Datça. It’s off-season so lodging is reasonable and I plan to hike and take day trips to the Greek Islands and other areas of Turkey. Not sure how long I will stay in Datca, but it will certainly be a change from busy Istanbul.
More to follow…