A Hidden Gem

Hidden below the city of Istanbul lies an underground forest of stone pillars that aren’t seen until you descend below the street and down some fifty steps beneath the ground. 


Back in the 6th century, a huge cistern was dug to provide water to the buildings around it, including Mehmed II’s Topkapi Palace. This cistern is massive and palatial in its own right. 


Although we came to see the Hagia Sophia, the Basilica Cistern which is just 500 feet away from Sophia’s grand shadow, was equally impressive. 


Although once full like a well, today, the Basilica Cistern has just enough water kept in its underground lair to make it a formidable tourist attraction. Spiced up with colorful lighting, though we found it odd that modern sculptures were also strewn about the pools of water—as if it wasn’t wondrous enough to wander through a massive grove of giant pillars, engineered to hold up the vaulted arches above and filled to its brim with water for a thirsty city. 


The sculptures cheapened the feel, though halfway through our wanderings staring up at lofty arches, we stopped noticing the tacky art. Our eyes were agog over the feat of construction before us—especially after learning that these giant columns had been placed by the sweat and toil of thousands of slaves. 


Our visit here became one of those marvels you sometimes accidentally stumble across as you travel. That place your high school history teacher skipped telling you about because you were passing notes in class and weren’t listening to him anyway. Our apologies to Mr. Grey. We should have paid attention. 

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