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.