The Basilica Cistern and its function have evolved along with the ever-changing city of Istanbul. During Byzantine times, the cistern was constructed to provide water for the Great Palace and the surrounding buildings. Once the Ottomans took control, they ushered in a new layer of the city of Istanbul, and thus a new layer to the palimpsest for the cistern. The cistern went largely defunct, since the Ottoman’s used a modern irrigation system, and the site quickly fell into disrepair. Nevertheless, after its rediscovery, it slowly gained recognition until it was later cleaned and renovated. Reflecting the city of Istanbul as a globalizing and westernizing city, the site thus took on a modern, tourist attraction function to cater to western visitors.
For this reason, the site acts as a lieu de memoire. It embodies the heritage of Istanbul, going back to Byzantine and Ottoman times, and serves as a cultural backbone of the city, embodying the lifestyles and progress of Istanbullus of antiquity. In Nora’s terms, the site serves as a bond between past and present, a linkage in our memories serving as a reminder about the site’s successes and downfalls, old purpose and current function, dormancy and revival. Additionally, in the words of Alois Riegl, the site serves in “age value,” as a symbol of elapsing time, and as an “unintentional monument,” as a site whose function has become obsolete, but that nevertheless has a cultural significance that we must protect. It is because this site is a lieu de memoire that it must be protected; in an evolving city, there must been some linkage between the past and the present to serve as a benchmark for history, and to note our rapid progression into the future.