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Summit Sight

Your Ararat Adventure

Visiting Istanbul’s Basilica Cistern or Sunken Cistern
Justinian, incapable of thinking in small terms, had this enormous water storage tank built in 532. An astonishing 336 columns support the ceiling of this 230-foot by 460-foot sunken cistern, which once held almost a trillion gallons of water. Taken from distant, destroyed buildings, there are many different column styles on display here. In particular, two columns are supported by blocks with carved medusa heads. Now restored and scrubbed, this is a delightful, cool attraction.

The Cistern is adjacent to the Hippodrome in Istanbul’s old city.
The main Medusa Head

Walk to the back of the Cistern, and you will find this upside down Medusa head supporting one of the columns. Why it is upside down has been a question of much discussion, but the best guess is that the people who placed the stone believed that if the head was upside down, it would ward off evil spirits.
The second Medusa Head

Not far from the upside-down Medusa head is a second Medusa head, which is sideways. Why one head is upside down and the other is sideways only deepens the question about their orientation. Perhaps the builders felt that to place two heads in the same orientation would empower the evil forces living in the snakes on Medusa's head. Also, their presence in the Cistern in the first place is interesting. Perhaps, since they were underwater for most of the ages, the evil forces remained safely submerged.
Frugality is the mother of all virtues.
– Justinian
Copyright 2001-2021 by Gerry Roach and Stan Havlick. All Rights Reserved.