The Theodosius Cistern, Istanbul - An ancient Roman underground reservoir with a very modern light show !
We visited the Cistern of Theodosius while in Istanbul back in June. Its quite an incredible place - a man-made underground reservoir built around 430 (so 1600 years old), to store fresh water for the then growing city of Constantinople.
The Theodosius Cistern is a very impressive place, just for its age. It consists of a brick built underground reservoir, supported by 32 beautiful marble columns. It looks in pretty amazing condition considering its 1600 year old age, as if it could still hold water today.
Its surprisingly not that big (say the size of a small concert hall), and as such to make it a more worthwhile attraction ,it has been fitted with an amazing light show. This was necessary because there is another underground reservoir, the Basilica Cistern, quite close to it, which is huge, and an incredible place to visit, and by comparison, the Theodosius Cistern on its own could not complete. So its distinguishing feature is the light show, and thats the incentive to go and see it.
The light show as pretty impressive, and quite immersive, as it covers every visible surface. When the lights are out, it is completely pitch black in the undergrounds space, so it creates for quite a show !
The pic above shows the natural colours of the cistern. What I love about the design is that even though these pillars would be underground and never seen by anyone, they still wanted to make them look good and gave them the beautiful fluting feature at the top ! What craftmanship !
The pic above also shows the beautiful vaulted brick ceilings, and the old arches at the top, which I assume were part of the water delivery system (whether into or out of the cistern). This cistern was fed by the Valens aqueduct which transported water from many miles away into the naturally dry city of Constantinople.
The pic above shows some of the huge projectors that are in place to put on the display - it was quite an impressive setup, and the mind boggles at how hard it must have been to programme the light show to project correctly on all of the available surfaces at the right time.
The show only lasted for 15 minutes, and as short as that sounds, it was actually long enough. If I was to be honest, I would have to say it felt a little expensive for what it was, especially having seen the Basilica Cistern a few days earlier - which is immense in comparison. Although I'm still glad I got to see another impressive Roman construction.
It certainly shed the underground complex in a different light - literally ! And overall, being a lover of Roman architecture and history, I was still very impressive with what they had managed to implement all those many years ago. Without this type of ingenuity, it would have been impossible for the city to flourish and grow as large as it did all those years ago, as it had next to no sources of fresh drinking water.
So the architecture was pretty cool, even if the light show was a bit gimmicky - although it was also impressive.
Would I go back to see it again ? Probably not, although I'm glad I have seen it. I would however go back to the Basilica Cistern in a heart beat, that place is just amazing.
It was a key feature on the tourist trail in Istanbul, and you've got to do these things, so it was all good ! And if fancy light shows in underground reservoirs are your thing - then this is the one to go and see !