We woke up the next morning to the sounds of seagulls by our window. Stumbling out of bed we got ready and went to have breakfast on the terrace of the Airbnb that yielded a beautiful view of the waters of the Bosphorus. A brilliant breakfast later we were all set to tackle the day.
We then decided to visit the one place we were curious about- the Basilica Cistern. Cisterns are water storage spaces and this one was used to both store and filter water. The name of the cistern is believed to have originated because before the cistern, there was a Basilica in the same spot from the 3rd or 4th century. 336 marble pillars procured from other buildings hold up the cistern roofs. The cistern fell into disuse till it was discovered in the 16th century when a traveller realised residents used buckets to still get water through holes in their floors and even managed to fish from it! 2 pillars with Medusa heads in upside down and right side up are popular sights within the cistern and are said to be placed that way to negate the mythical effects of gazing upon her face and being turned to stone. She is one of the most memorable of the few characters I remember from school level reading– her hair made of snakes possibly made up for an evocative image.
Like many historical structures around the world, this one too was built with slaves, over 7000 of them. One of the towers has engravings of Hen’s eyes(no idea why) and tears – believed to be a tribute to the lives lost during the construction of the cistern. Water in the cistern is said to have been brought from the Belgrad forest which is a whole 19kms away from the cistern. Walking through the cistern feels very special- the lighting and the endless pillars gives you a sense of having entered a magical underworld.
Soon after we walked into the bustle of the Grand Bazaar to pick a few souvenirs for folks at home- we aren’t big buyers but still picked up some handmade soaps and sweets. The lamps were just magical but also a bit over our budget. The tiles and bowls make for brilliant souvenirs too. I find Arabic calligraphy stunning, and it was just our luck that we managed to meet a gentleman who was offering it- we got our names written which to me was a more precious find than most others. Even if you don’t intend to buy anything, the Grand Bazaar is quite a wonderful, colourful and interesting space to wander around. Its endless turns and enjoy beautiful works – whether food, carpets, lamps or fabric give you something to admire at every step.
We, however, ended up more interested in the more “local” market at Eminonu. It reminded us of Avenue road in Bangalore where you can find everything you can think of- from cutlery, fabric, food, furniture, hardware.
We got lost at one point and tried to ask for directions from 2 storekeepers in our terrible Turkish – just as we almost gave up- the guy knitted his eyebrows and asked “India?”, while we nodded he burst out laughing and continued in Hindi asking us why we were struggling with Turkish instead. As it turned out, he was from Bangladesh. To perfect strangers, with all of us far away from our homes, his instant offer of tea and a seat at his store made us our hearts fill with gratitude – for good people everywhere we go.