For me, one of the most unexpected delights was our visit to the Yerebatan Sarayı, or “sunken palace”…the Basilica Cistern built by the Emperor Justinian in the 6th century. I don’t know what I was expecting, but this was truly fascinating! Lonely Planet says “it once held 80,000 cubic metres of water” (as our guide Orhan reminded us, “The United States is going metric…one inch at a time!”).
This cool, eerie delight was a sight to see. Be careful on the slippery walkways! We made our way to the end of the cistern, to see the famous Medusa pillars. All you readers of Dan Brown…you’ll know that this is where his latest novel, Inferno, set its climactic scene. I was reading that novel, picked up in the Chicago airport, during my Turkish trip, by chance. My room mate informed me of its setting!
Next we headed for a Byzantine wonder, the Church of the Holy Savior at Chora. One of the best preserved examples of Byzantine architecture, icons and mosaics–this was a little wonder. Sadly, much of the church was cordoned off, as it was under repair, but what was visible was truly lovely.
The earliest version of this church dates back before the 5th Century, though it has been destroyed and rebuilt several times. The church as it stands dates to the 14th century, as do most of the mosaics and icons. The word “Chora” derives from a word meaning “outside the city”, so this church was outside the Byzantine walls. It was beautiful and I’d love to see it again, with more art open to view after repairs are finished!