In the classic James Bond film From Russia With Love (second entry in the franchise series, United Artists, 1963), there is a scene in which the head of Station T (Ali Kerim Bey played by Pedro Armendáriz) and Bond take a boat ride along underground aqueducts beneath Istanbul. What you may not realize is that this waterway actually exists, and that it is indeed beneath the streets of Istanbul. Welcome to the eerie yet fascinating Basilica Cistern.
The Basilica Cistern is a mere 500 feet/150 meters west of the Hagia Sophia, and it’s well worth the visit. This amazing cistern measures 453 feet/138 meters by 213 feet/65 meters. It has a capacity of 2,825,000 cubic feet/80,000 cubic meters, or about 21,130,000 gallons!
Many of the 336 columns supporting the cistern roof were re-purposed from other structures. These columns average 30 feet/9 meters in height. Some of the columns also come with a surprise or two, including base support from the snake-haired Gorgon Medusa. But the two busts of Medusa you’ll find here are not in the expected orientation. One lies sideways, the other is inverted.
Now for a few more images from the Basilica Cistern: