Basilica Cistern, the largest ‘subterranean’ achievement of the Eastern Romans, to undergo restoration

istanbul-basilica-cistern-restoration_4Source: WTG-Global

According to a statistical report entailing international tourists, the Basilica Cistern is the third most visited site in Turkey. And now after more than 1,500-years of its eminent existence, the (Eastern) Roman infrastructural ambit is also set to undergo restoration through an ambitious 450-day project to be conducted by Hera Restoration. And while this may seem to be a long time for potential visitors to the site, the good news is that the Basilica Cistern will be open to tourists in Istanbul’s Sultanahmet section.

On the historical side of affairs, like many grandiosely-conceived architectural projects (including the Hagia Sophia), the Basilica Cistern was constructed under the auspices of Emperor Justinian I (in 542 AD). The gargantuan subterranean structure, often touted as the world’s oldest cistern – supposedly built by 7,000 slaves, boasts 140 m (460 ft) in length and 70 m (230 ft) in width, thus accounting for an impressive 106,000 sq ft – equivalent of almost two American football fields. This dimensional ambit theoretically translates to the volumetric capacity for holding 2.8 million cu ft of water (or 21 million gallons of water).

Architecturally, the underground structure could be accessed through 52 steps, with the subterranean space being supported by a whopping 336 columns, each rising to a height of around 30 ft. Interestingly enough, many of these columns were probably made out of the remnants of older stone buildings not only in the proximate area, but also from various regions of the empire. Incidentally, while the scope of the cistern may seem to be overly ambitious, the reservoir clearly served its infrastructural purpose, as can be deduced from its rebuilding in 476 AD after a fire.


The mysterious inverted Medusa head inside the Basilica Cistern. Photo Credit: Wazari Wazir Photographer Blog.

As for the restoration in question here, one of the primary alterations would be made to the entrance and exit doors of the Basilica Cistern. This would make the access point larger for tourists, thus reducing their waiting queues. The waiting lounge by the entrance will also have glass-based modifications, while the exit door will be refurbished in a manner suitable to a museum.

The next structural modification would entail the damp-free treatment of the walking path for the visitors for touring the cistern, so that the pathway keeps dry even during rainy seasons, which in turn enhances the degree of personal safety. This will be accompanied by the complete overhaul of the concrete platform inside the subterranean chamber. In fact, the builders are looking forth to entirely demolish the concrete podium, and replace it with a platform constructed from modern materials.

And finally, the restoration project will also improve upon the fortifications and reinforcements of the various structural supports, including the columns, walls and vaults. Interestingly enough, the refurbishing scope would also entail the rectification of the missteps and oversights committed in previous small-scale restoration works done on the Basilica Cistern.


Sketch of the Basilica Cistern by Robert Walsh.

Article Source: DailySabah

Featured Image Source: WTG-Global

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