Istanbul Yerebatan Sarayi Sunken Palace – Basilica Cistern23 July, 2010
While in Istanbul, there is no better place to escape the hot Turkey summer than to explore the Yerebatan Sarayi (Sunken Palace) Basilica Cistern (Entrance Fee: 10 TL). This huge underground cistern used to serve as a place where the city’s water is drawn from and where water from nearby mountains pool. Nowadays, it has become a popular tourist attraction and even a concert venue due to its cooling and acoustically pleasant environment. Some parts of the cistern is quite dim and wet so watch your step on the slippery floor.
As with every other tourist attractions in Istanbul, there are always some tacky souvenir for tourists and in the Basilica Cistern, it is a photoshoot with traditional costumes (not sure if its even Turkish in nature) but being the tourists we are, we just have to do it. It cost €5 for a photo regardless the number of people in it – you can even be a Sultan with a harem of ladies if you can squeeze all your “wives” in and all that for just 5€ (what a bargain!). For me, I will make do with my harem of one. 🙂
The entire photo-taking process took less than 5 minutes – choose your costumes from a rack of heavy strange hats and gowns (no need to change clothes – just put the costumes over yourself) and wait for the existing group of “Sultans” to be done with their royal photos. Once your turn is reached – sit down and listen to instructions, snap snap snap and you are done! Return the costumes and pick-up your photo which is printed on the spot within seconds.
The “Mona Lisa” equivalent in the Yerebatan Sarayi Basilica Cistern has got to be the Medusa head pillars located at the far end of the cistern – just follow the crowds! There are 2 Medusa heads aligned sideway and inverted, holding up two pillars – it was said that they were removed during ancient times from buildings above the cistern and placed here in an inverted manner to curb the power of these Medusa head stone structure. Medusa head carvings were used a long time ago in the design of architecture around this area as a form of protection amulet, blessing the buildings it was based in. We have heard the story of Medusa’s gaze which could turn humans into stone – perhaps that’s where the myth came from.
Another very popular structure in the Basilica Cistern is the Peacock Column which is quite a nice pillar with peacock feather designs – there is a hole in the pillar where supposedly if you insert your finger in it and turn 360 degrees on your palm, you will get good luck.