CISTERN LOGISTICS The water originally fed from the Belgrade Forest via the 4th century Valens Aqueduct, up to 100,000 gallons. Over the centuries various Sultans have repaired it, but then it was lost under the coagulating Ottoman city. The Cistern was re-discovered in 1968 and restored to its present condition in 1985. The government dug out 50,000 tons of mud, put in some reinforcing concrete piers and built walkways and stairs and a ticket office. Before then, the area was covered with wooden houses. People used to send Grandpa down to the basement to catch fish for dinner. They took this for granted. Doesn’t everyone fish in their basement?

Basilica Cistern 99 72
Basilica Cistern 99 ©1999 Trici Venola.

PARISIAN CHAGRIN There’s an account from a Western visitor to ‘Constantinople’ whose host took him down into the Cistern by canoe in the latter 1800s. He looked up and, awestruck, recognized Roman capitals. “The blighter doesn’t even know what he has,” he fumed in 19th Century French. But all I can think is how lucky he was to see it by boat and torchlight.

TAKE ONE, 1999

First Take on Medusas 72
First Take Medusa ©1999 Trici Venola

Here’s my first-ever drawing of the Medusas.  I  must have noticed that Upside-Down Medusa really doesn’t have pupils in her eyes. I’m always saying Draw what you see, not what you think you see– perhaps I didn’t understand it, so it just “wasn’t there.”

“So I’m sitting down there drawing the Medusa,” I told my friend Mike, back on that first visit in ’99, “and every tour guide is saying that she’s upside down so–“

“So she won’t turn you to stone?”  he said, grinning. Mike’s from the neighborhood.

“Yes!  And there’s another Medusa below the column next to her and it’s sideways— is that why?”

“No!  They just needed a piece that big.  Those Byzantines, they used everything the Romans left lying around.”


Sunken Palace: The Basilica Cistern: Next: SCAVENGED GLORY

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