The Basilica Cistern during Byzantine Times: Serving the Great Palace 532-1100

A map showing where the Great Palace once stood, the Hagia Sophia, and where the Basilica Cistern would be



While the year 532 served as the year of construction for the cistern, it also served as the year of the Nika Riots, a revolt against Justinian which resulted in much of the city being burned down. The Great Palace and the Hagia Sophia were destroyed, and construction commenced to rebuild them, with plans to include the Basilica Cistern to service them. The Basilica Cistern was aptly placed to provide water to the neighboring Great Palace, Hagia Sophia, and other buildings in the vicinity. The Great Palace covered a wide area, and served as the residence of the emperor, as well as a home to many others. Water was supplied from the Belgrade Forest about 12 miles away to the cistern, which was then retrieved by the residents by lowering buckets into the cistern’s wells. 

The Great Palace continued to be of significance to the empire until the 12th century, when the Palace of Blacherne became the primary choice of residence. The palace thus rapidly fell into decay, and the Basilica Cistern’s usage likewise declined. Nevertheless, it still remained functional throughout the Byzantine Empire, and up until the Ottoman conquest of Istanbul.

A rendering of the Great Palace of Constantinople, one of the sites the the Basilica Cistern provided water to during Byzantium times 



While evidence of the circumstances under which the cistern came into being have been erased in the city’s palimpsest, the cistern itself had endured time and still remains. Remains of the Nika Riots and the Great Palace that ultimately led to the construction of the cistern have been removed, and thus the cistern serves as, what Nora would call, a bond between past and present as it nourishes our recollections of a time that is no longer palpable, and it speaks to Alois Reigl’s age value of the passage of time from Byzantine Empire and the great structures that once populated Istanbul. Additionally, the site reflects the city of Constantinople at the time. The construction of a Great Palace called for the construction of a great cistern, since cisterns were the primary mode to store and retrieve water for Constantinople's localities. Nevertheless, as the Great Palace's significance declined, so did the significance of the cistern, marking the end of the functional golden age of the Basilica Cistern from 532 to the 12th century. Now, the cistern is one of the only spot that remains in the city's palimpsest to remind us of the Great Palace, and other Byzantium era structures. 



Dwight, Harry Griswold. Constantinople, Old and New. N.p.: Routledge, 2002. Print. Pg 85.

"YEREBATAN SARNICI." Basilica Cistern. Basilica Cistern, n.d. Web. 6 Nov. 2016.

 Korzhumbayeva, Aigerim. "Istanbul’s (Constantinople) 6th Century Basilica Cistern." Electrium Magazine. N.p., 20 July 2012. Web. 06 Nov. 2016.