just west of the Hippodrome in Sultanahmet
(map), is the second
largest underground cistern in Istanbul (after the Basilica
Enter either by the grand doorway
on Imran Öktem Caddesi near the Adliye
Sarayı (Law Courts) or through the
ugly modern building in the little
park atop the cistern (between Işık
Sokak and Klodfarer Caddesi). There
is a small admission charge.
With 212 columns (of an original 224),
and an area of 3610 square meters (nearly
an acre), Binbirdirek is
certainly impressive. It is also very
old, perhaps dating from the days of
Constantine the Great, who founded
New Rome (Constantinople) in 330 AD.
When I first
saw it (1968), it was mostly dry, filled
with earth, and lit by a few naked
lightbulbs. The earth has been removed—hundreds
of truckloads of it—and replaced
with concrete. The plan was to turn
it into a shopping mall. Few people
wanted to shop underground,
however, so now it is mostly empty
except for a blue-lit bar where
you can sip a tea or coffee (included
in the price of admission), or something
stronger (not included).
Ugly plastic tarps deflect the water
that drips from the ceiling of the
it was a cistern, the dripping water
would've been an asset, not a liability.
Although Binbirdirek and the Basilica
Cistern are the two largest cisterns
in Istanbul, in fact many important
Byzantine public buildings had cisterns
beneath them. It is not at all unusual
for construction workers to encounter
an unknown cistern. Usually there is
no money to restore it, so it's closed
and preserved for a time when funding
may be available.
Below, the very blue bar.