Under Istanbul

July 15, 2014 | by Ken

I’m following James Bond around Istanbul again.

In true Her Majesty’s Secret Service fashion, I’ve given Karen the slip and descended into the shadows… beyond the prying eyes of the masses… into hidden subterranean caverns. Caverns that have a cafe and gift shop.

The Basilica Cistern wasn’t a tourist attraction back when Sean Connery appeared in From Russia with Love, spying on the Russian embassy through the periscope (!) that they didn’t notice poking out of the floor (!!).

Opened to the public in 1987, it’s plenty well-known now. No, it wasn’t Istanbul’s sewer; water was transported from miles away to be stored here. The 336 columns vary in style, randomly topped with Iconic, Corinthian, and Doric capitals. The architects probably didn’t expect hundreds of camera-toting tourists to be inspecting their handiwork.

No one quite knows why there are pilfered Medusa heads at the bases of two columns. And I’m glad- I prefer that a bit of mystery remains down here, beneath the streets of Istanbul.