Cisterna Istanbul From Russia With Love

Under Troubled Water

TURKEY – Istanbul, Basilica Cistern // From Russia With Love (1963)

Istanbul delights with magnificent sights wherever one looks. Even below: Underneath famous Hagia Sofia is a cool cistern, silently lingering in darkness.

Why Bond was here
The masterminds of SPECTRE forged a plan to catch two things at one sweep – James Bond (Sean Connery) and a cryptographic device from the Soviets – playing off both sides with the help of a young Soviet girl as unknowingly pawn. The show is staged in Turkey’s bustling city Istanbul, so Bond joins with the local MI6 branch led by Kerim Bey (Pedro Armendáriz) to watch the movement of the Soviets in town. Kerim Bey uses a broad underground network to move underneath the city. Part of the network is the water filled Basilica Cistern that Bond and Bey cross in a rowboat to reach the Soviet consulate – and spy on it with a periscope.

Basilica Cistern Istanbul James Bond

Bond and Karim Bey in the Cisterna

How you gonna get there
The Basilica Cistern, or Yerebatan Sarnıcı in Turkish, is right next to famous Hagia Sofia in the center of Istanbul’s touristic neighborhood Sultanahmet. When standing vis-a-vis at the entry to Hagia Sofia, the Cistern is to the left side across the main street. Usually, a crowd of people is standing at the entrance on Yerebatan street – best time to come is early morning, when the tourists are still at their breakfast. Closest tram station is “Sultanahmet”, roughly 200 meters up Divan Yolu street. Entry is 20 Turkish Lira.

Good to know
The Basilica Cistern was built in the 6th century during the reign of Justinian I. as the main water reservoir for Istanbul – back then called Constantinople. The underground hall is supported by rows of regal columns. The hall seems to spread endlessly into darkness, as the sparse illumination lets further away columns glow just like mere lanterns. In the morning hours, silence spreads over the waters, startled just by the distant echoing of water drops or quiet splashes from carps coming to the surface.
In the northern end of the hall, two Medusa heads can be found. While most of the columns are kept simple – well, they’re underground – those two stone pillars are amazing. Nobody knows for sure, when and why the Medusas were brought here. But the Turkish knew their Greek myths: Medusa was a Gorgon female monster, that could turn people into stone with its gaze only. Consequently the heads are turned either sideways or upside down to negate the look.

When a hot and noisy Istanbul day comes up, the cistern is the right place to cool down. The only nuisance is the pricing: Though entry is quite cheap, tripods are seen as “professional equipment” and thus charged with an extra fee. But to fight the darkness, it’s worth the investment.

© 2015 WikiCommons (1), © 1963 Danjaq, LLC and United Artists Corporation (2), © 2015 HuntingBond (3)