ARCHITECT, Byzantine
(active 532-565 in Constantinople)

Interior view

Basilica Cistern, Istanbul

When Byzantium, renamed Constantinople, became the main imperial residence in the Roman Empire, it soon had more inhabitants than it could supply with the water of its wells. So, large cisterns were built to store water that would otherwise flow to the sea. One of these was the Basilica Cistern or, as it is called today, Yerebatan Sarayi. It was rebuilt by the emperor Justinian (r. 527-565) after the Nika revolt (532).

The Basilica Cistern is a large, vaulted space; its roof rests on twelve rows of twenty-eight marble columns, which are about nine meters high. As the total surface measures 65 x 138 meters, the maximum capacity is almost 85,000 cubic meters, which was brought to this cistern from a well about twenty kilometer away through a new aqueduct, also built by Justinian. The water was used in the imperial palace (hence the name, "imperial cistern").

The 336 columns - 246 are still visible - were brought to the Basilica Cistern from older buildings.

The Bin-Bir-Derek cistern was constructed in the 6th century in a similar system, as shown in the drawing of its reconstruction.

© Web Gallery of Art, created by Emil Krén and Daniel Marx.