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A Mythical Story Behind Marble Columns: Basilica Cistern

Basilica Cistern is located in the southwest of Hagia Sofia. Constructed for Justinianus I, the Byzantium Emperor (527-565) as a big underground water reservoir. The cistern is 140 m long, and 70 m wide, and covers a rectangular area as a giant structure. Accessible with 52-step staircase, the Cistern shelters 336 columns, each of which is 9 m. high. Majority of the columns, most of which is understood to have been compiled from the ancient structures and sculpted of various kinds of marbles, is composed of a single part and one of it is composed of two parts. Covering 9.800 m² area in total, the cistern has an estimated water storage capacity of 100.000 tons.

Two Medusa heads, which are used as supports under the two columns at the northwest edge of the cistern, are the great work of art from the Roman period. As the legend has it, Medusa is one of the three Gorgonas that are female monsters in the underground world in Greek mythology. The snake-head Medusa, one of the three sisters, has the power of turning into stone to the ones that happen to look at her.

According to another rumor, Medusa was a girl who boasted for her black eyes, long hair and beautiful body. She loved Perseus, the son of Zeus. Athena was also in love with Perseus and this made Medusa jealous. Therefore, Athena converted Medusa’s hairs into snakes. Now, everybody that happened to look at Medusa was turned into stone.