You are here

Biblical Archaeology Review 46:2, Spring 2020

Strata: Where Is It?

Where Is It?

A. Turkey

B. Russia

C. Italy

D. Greece

E. Egypt

Answer: (A) Turkey

Below the streets of Istanbul (formerly Constantinople), lies a large cistern supported by hundreds of columns. Called the Basilica Cistern (Turkish: Yerebatan Sarnici), the subterranean reservoir measures about 450 by 200 feet and holds nearly 21 million gallons of water. The Byzantine emperor Justinian I built this cistern—and others—in the sixth century C.E. to supply his royal palace and nearby buildings with water. It’s located about 500 feet from the Hagia Sophia, once the largest church—and building—in the world.

The cistern has a mix of 336 marble columns, each 30 feet tall. Many of these came from earlier structures and were reused in the cistern. Interestingly, two of the column bases have the head of the mythical monster Medusa carved on them. The cistern with its inverted Medusa pillar is featured in the climactic scene of Dan Brown’s 2013 novel Inferno and its 2016 film adaptation, as well as the 1963 James Bond film From Russia with Love.