After our visit to the Blue Mosque, Billy and I enjoy a quick lunch in Sultanahmet Square and head over to the Basilica Cistern. No doubt, dear Reader, you may think a cistern is a strange attraction. Why on earth would anyone travel to Istanbul to see a glorified water tank? Just humor me – it’ll be fun!
Underneath It All (It’s Leaky, But I Like It!)
The Basilica Cisterna is an enormous underground cistern built in 532 to provide water to the residents of Istanbul in the event of a shortage (read: siege). We leave the sunny day above ground and descend into the darkness. As my eyes begin to adjust, the outlines of over 300 columns come into focus – each one is dimly illuminated from below by an eerie red light. On raised wooden walkways, Billy and I navigate the cavernous expanse. It is quiet, despite the other visitors, and there is something comforting about how “dim” I feel down here. I peer over the railing and spot large carp swimming in the water. They are quiet too.
One of the big “mysteries” of the cistern is the presence of two large, stone Medusa heads. Each head serves as the base for a column and there is much debate over how they found their way into a far corner of this Sunken Palace. Having noted that the columns seem to differ in detail and style, I doubt there is much mystery here. Are you thinking what I’m thinking, dear Reader? If so, yesterday’s Word of the Day most certainly comes to mind: spolia. It would seem this cistern was outfitted by the (likely unwilling) contributions of conquered territories.
William takes his time finding a good spot for us to make a wish. We throw a coin in the water and hope for the best.
I Just Can’t
Back in the sunshine, we wander the streets behind the Hagia Sophia where we find a row of beautiful, historic hotels. Young female tourists pose in the doorways while looking off into the distance, trying to appear at once sexy but also thoughtful for what is sure to be their next Instagram pic. Whatever. After a quick stroll through Gülhane Park, we take the tram back across the Golden Horn to our hip neighborhood of Beyoğlu – but we’re not done sightseeing just yet! Though my Fitbit says we have walked over seven miles today, we climb yet another steep hill to Galata Tower. This cylindrical tower was once the tallest structure in Istanbul and, supposedly, offers the best panoramic views of the city. We pay an outrageous fee to take the elevator to the top (about 10 floors) and even though I manage to snag some nice photos on the crammed balcony, I am suffocated by other tourists and feelings of: “I just can’t.” Get me outta here.
It’s getting dark and we are officially out of steam – we book it back to our apartment. Billy isn’t feeling well and any grand ideas about going out for dinner on the town suddenly seem exhausting. Instead, we order take-out kebabs from a nondescript restaurant around the corner – it ends up being the tastiest food we have the entire trip! For dessert we enjoy some of the baklava we bought earlier in the day. I can’t decide whether I like the walnut or pistachio baklava best and, as a result, end up eating too much of both. Happily situated on the couch with some cups of apple tea, Billy commandeers my book while I do a little journaling.