The Theodosius Cistern, one of the most prominent ancient cisterns of Constantinople, has recently opened its doors to the public after an eight-year-long restoration project. Lying underneath the modern-day city of Istanbul, with its modern entrance located at Piyer Loti Street in Turkey’s Fatih district, the ancient structure has been restored by the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality (IBB).
Speaking at the ceremony, commemorating the cistern’s reopening, Istanbul Governor Vasip Şahin said –
Istanbul regains an important and 1,600-year-old construction which is being opened to service with a solemn, rare and modest presentation today. We are starting to live the Istanbul, which we cannot apprehend when we read, today. Therefore, Istanbul begins to show itself. It is decorated with important works which carry the traces of old civilizations and beauties again.
For the restoration of the Theodosius Cistern and other structures of historical importance across Istanbul, the Governor’s Office is now collaborating with the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, General Directorate of Foundations, IBB and other municipalities, stated Şahin. He added –
Many historical works, which are surrounded by buildings or on which other constructions are built, have been revealed recently. The more awareness, experts and sources we have, the more beautiful Istanbul will be.
As part of the ceremony, Iranian artist Ahmet Nejat presented an exhibition titled “Hiç Hali” (meaning “state of nothingness”) inside the cistern. The show included a golden globe with the inscription “Aşk ve Hiç” (Love and None) as well as a sound design created with the poems of Rumi.
The Theodosius Cistern: An Overview
Built by Roman Emperor Theodosius II between circa 428 AD and 443 AD, the Theodosius Cistern was used to store water from the Valens Aqueduct, which was the chief water-supplying system of the Eastern Roman capital of Constantinople. During Theodosius’ reign, the aqueduct was redistributed from its original supply to the Nymphaeum, the Baths of Zeuxippus and the Great Palace of Constantinople. This, in turn, involved the construction of the Theodosius Cistern.
Talking about the historical significance of the structure, Former Fatih Mayor Mustafa Demir said –
We are in an amazing place in the Fatih district. This 1,600-year-old cistern is older than the Hagia Sophia and an important cistern. It is really perfect and has become a place where art reflecting our tradition inside is exhibited. It is not possible to find an example of it in the world.
Spread across an area of 148 feet by 82 feet (around 45 meters by 25 meters), the ancient cistern features a roof that is supported by 32 marble columns, each measuring over 30 feet (or 9 meters) in height.
During the opening ceremony, Şahin reflected –
This cistern is one of the best works that show how water civilization was developed in these lands before the Byzantine and Ottoman periods and how it was protected and enriched as technically and architecturally by the Ottoman Empire.
Istanbul’s Long List Of Ancient Cisterns
Constantinople, located in present-day Istanbul, Turkey, was the largest and wealthiest city in Europe from 5th to early 13th century AD. To that end, it was Emperor Constantine who truly elevated the architectural ambit of the original settlement, by ‘re-founding’ it as Nova Roma (New Rome). This symbolic overture mirrored the entire shifting of the capital from original Rome to Byzantium in 330 AD, which was then called Konstantinoupolis (or city of Constantine).
The massive defense systems of the major Roman city [entailing the Theodosian Walls] was equally matched by its impressive architectural masterpieces, ranging from the magnificent Greek Orthodox cathedral of Hagia Sophia, the humongous Hippodrome of Constantinople (which was capable of possibly holding over 50,000 spectators) to the Great Palace of Constantinople (or Palatium Magnum) and the triumphal Golden Gate of the complex Land Walls.
Watch the animated reconstruction of Constantinople, The ‘New Rome’ Of 13th Century AD
Constantinople was also home to numerous open-air and underground cisterns, which were essentially waterproof receptacles for holding usually water. These structures helped solve the city’s long-standing water problem to a great extent. Speaking on the topic, IBB Mayor Mevlüt Uysal noted –
We have cisterns that we have visited before in Istanbul. After the Basilica Cistern and Cistern of Philoxenos, the Theodosius Cistern has been added to the list.
The Basilica Cistern, for instance, 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 area.
This dimensional ambit theoretically translates to the volumetric capacity for holding 2.8 million cu ft of water (or 21 million gallons of water). Despite undergoing restoration as part of an ambitious 450-day project by Hera Restoration, the ancient structure remains the third most visited site in Turkey.
Another structure of interest is the Cistern Of Aetius. Once of the largest Byzantine open-air cisterns, with impressive dimensions of 244 m (801 ft) length, 85 m (279 ft) width and 14 m (46 ft) depth, it is currently the site of a football stadium, going by the name of Karagümrük stadyumu in Istanbul.
Source/Featured Image Credit: Daily Sabah