This is the biggest of several hundred underground cisterns that supplied Istanbul with water across from Hagia Sofia.
The cathedral-sized cistern was built in 532 by Byzantine Emperor Justinian and measures 453 feet by 213 feet. There are 336 carved marble columns arranged in 12 rows supporting the vaulted roof. Using aqueducts from the Belgrade Forest, the cistern could hold 2,800,000 cubic feet of water.
It’s really magical to visit the cistern. You walk down 52 steps to the entrance, and you’re greeted by a forest of columns. Often, classical music is piped in to enhance the dreamy view. A low water level keeps goldfish swimming among the columns. Visitors can now walk around the cistern instead of having to move around by boat.
Find two columns with Medusa carved into their bases in the northwest corner. The one on the left is upside down, the one on the right is sideways. It’s said they’re here to divert the evil power of the gorgon’s eye. There’s even a café right near the entrance.
2. Derinkuyu/Underground City, Cappadocia
Derinkuyu is the biggest underground city in Cappadocia. This city is 280 feet deep and has 18 floors near Nevsehir or Goreme.
The city dates back to Hittite times but was fully developed during Byzantine times (A.D. 780-1180). It served as a refuge during many wars in the region. 20,000 people plus livestock and provisions could fit in there. Massive stones could serve as doors on each floor. Ventilation is provided by narrow shafts. Derinkuyu had a network of tunnels connecting it to other underground cities, as well as wine and oil presses.
You won’t find much explanation of what you’re seeing when you visit. This tour, which also includes other sites, might be a good idea.
Watch out for guides who stand at the entrance and offer their services. I like them a lot.
3. Dara Cistern And Necropolis, Mardin
Middle Mesopotamia’s oldest settlement is Dara. In Roman and early Byzantine times, Dara was an important settlement along the Silk Road, just 19 miles from Mardin, an equally ancient and fabulous hill city. You should check out the fortified city walls, cave houses, cisterns, and unique gallery graves that make up the necropolis, which sprawls over a large area. The limestone rock has everything carved into it.
82 feet underground, the cistern can hold 143,000 cubic feet of water and was discovered under a barn in Dara. A fortification wall carved into it dates back to the 6th century. Unlike the basilica cistern, it’s not as elaborately carved.
Hundreds of people were buried in gallery graves, buried together in niches. Romans used to do reinvigoration ceremonies. The site is still being excavated.
4. Pluto’s Gate, Denizli
Pamukkale’s giant travertine terraces and hot springs are topped by the ancient city of Hierapolis. In the 2nd century B.C., it was a popular spa town, but it has a darker secret.
As a result of toxic gases escaping from a hole in the mountainside, it became known as the “Gate to Hell.” The Romans built a sanctuary called Ploutonion because they thought it was the gate to the underworld, belonging to Pluto, and the deadly gases were the breath of Cerberus, the giant hound guarding the underworld and protecting Pluto.
This phenomenon has been explained by modern science: a tectonic fault right underneath causes a high concentration of carbon dioxide to escape through a hole in the Ploutonion.
The mineral-rich water and toxic gases mix and get to the surface through that hole. When it’s sunny, the carbon dioxide dissipates quickly, but at night and close to the ground, it’s deadly.
5. Kaymakli, Cappadocia
Kaymakli is an underground city located within a citadel a few miles from Nevsehir. There are more than 100 tunnels still in use today as storage spaces, stables, and cellars. Only four floors of Derinkuyu are open to the public, and the tunnels are narrower and lower.
All the rooms are arranged around ventilation shafts. If you don’t mind changing buses a few times, you can go on your own if you don’t mind a guided tour.
The entrance is at the back of Nevsehir, just cross the market.
6. Church At Nevsehir Castle, Cappadocia
Kaymakli has another underground area you might want to check out while you’re there. Some years ago, a church and never-before-seen frescoes were discovered during excavations of the vast area the castle covers. Church walls collapsed in the 5th century A.D., leaving only the roof visible. It took a lot of time and effort to remove the mud and debris from the frescoes that were surprisingly fresh in color.
Christ rises to Heaven and kills bad souls. With its motorways, Nevsehir is a hub in Cappadocia and can be reached from many cities in Turkey.
7. Myra Necropolis, Demre
Turkey’s southwest coast is home to Demre, not far from Antalya. The city dates back to the 4th century B.C. It’s known for its elaborate rock tombs, carved out of the rock like houses and temples. Originally, this city of the dead was painted bright red, yellow, blue, and purple. On either side of the necropolis, there’s an ocean necropolis or a river necropolis.
Demre is also home to St. Nicholas and has a church dedicated to him.
The tombs aren’t underground, you can’t climb around among them, but there are plenty of tours so you can see them.
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