Cisterns of Istanbul serve cultural life
Istanbul, which has been the capital of the Eastern Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman Empires for many ages throughout history, continues to draw the interest of culture and art aficionados with cisterns that were built to meet the city’s water needs in those periods.
Istanbul Provincial Culture and Tourism Director Coşkun Yılmaz has said many cisterns had been built in the city during ancient times because of insufficient water resources in order to meet the demand during dry summers. He also said there are up to 100 big cisterns.
These structures, which have been left from the Roman and the Byzantine eras, are open space and closed space structures, said Yılmaz.
“The best examples of closed space are the Yerebatan and Binbirdirek cisterns. The biggest closed space cistern in Istanbul, Yerebatan, was built by 7,000 workers with the order of Justinian I after the Nika revolt in 532 A.D. It is also called the Basilica Cistern, as it was built on a basilica, which was destroyed during a fire in 475 A.D. It is the most visited cistern today and hosts many national and international events as well,” said the director.
“A total of 1,014,326 people visited the Yerebatan cistern in 2017. The second biggest cistern in Istanbul, Binbirdirek, dried up through time and has served as an atelier since the 16th century. Today, it is being operated by the Istanbul Municipality,” he said.
Yılmaz said the most well-known open space cistern, which is surrounded by walls, is Fildamı Cistern in Bakırköy. It is believed to have been built at the time of Emperor Valens and currently serves for various events.
Cistern under Nuruosmaniye Mosque
The Nuruosmaniye Cellar was unearthed during the restoration of the Nuruosmaniye Mosque.
“In 2013, 420 trucks of clay were removed from under the Nuruosmaniye Mosque. An 825-square meter field was found 8.5 meters deep under the 270-year historical mosque. The existence of this field had been known for years but it had been filled with waste and rubbish. In the field, which looked like a cistern, a group of structures were unearthed, including 12 rooms and 19 different sections. It looked like the Yerebatan Cistern,” he said.
“The Nuruosmaniye Cellar, which is currently under inspection by the General Directorate of Foundations and serves as a temporary exhibition space, has been designed as an important exhibition and event center. It will soon serve Istanbul’s culture, arts and tourism,” said Yılmaz.
The director said the Şerefiye Cistern, in the former Eminönü Municipality, was built at the time of Byzantine Emperor Theodosius II between 428 A.D. and 443 A.D. and was restored by the Istanbul Municipality for cultural life.
He also listed the other important cisterns in the city.
“There is the Aetius Cistern found in Karagümrük Vefa. The Aspar Cistern in the Çukurbostan neighborhood today is used as a space for sports and as a park. Then, there is the Atpazarı Cistern in Fatih. The Benzinlik Cistern, is located in an area between Topkapı Palace and Gülhane. Other important ones are the Depolar Commandership Cistern in Eminönü, the Eşrefiye Street Cistern in Eminönü, and the Sphendon (Hipodrom) Cistern in Sultanahmet. The Sultan Cistern, is one of the biggest closed space cisterns in Istanbul and serves as a restaurant today. There is the Şerefiye Cistern in Fatih. Another one is the Unkapanı Cistern beneath an apartment and the Zeyrek Mosque,” said Yılmaz.