Mythological Stories of Basilica Cistern

The Basilica Cistern in Istanbul is not only a stunning example of Byzantine architecture but also steeped in mythological stories that add an air of mystery to its atmosphere.
Basilica Cistern | Story of Medusa Head in Basilica Cistern

The Basilica Cistern in Istanbul stands not only as a testament to ancient engineering but also as a repository of mythological narratives that enrich its historical resonance. Let's delve into a nuanced exploration of the mythological stories woven into the fabric of the Basilica Cistern.

Medusa Heads

The captivating focal points within the Basilica Cistern are the two Medusa heads, skillfully repurposed as column bases. Positioned unconventionally—one tilted sideways, the other inverted—their arrangement invites speculation and curiosity.

Mythological Connection

In the realm of Greek mythology, Medusa, the formidable Gorgon sister, wielded a gaze capable of petrifying onlookers. Placing her heads askew was a deliberate attempt to mitigate this power, shielding observers from direct eye contact and preserving the mystique surrounding the myth.

Medusa in Greek Mythology

Origin of Medusa

Medusa's narrative unfolds from her initial role as a beautiful priestess in Athena's temple. However, her ill-fated liaison with Poseidon within the sacred confines of Athena's sanctuary invoked the goddess's wrath, resulting in a transformative metamorphosis into a grotesque figure with serpentine locks.

Perseus and the Gorgon

The renowned tale of Perseus tasked with slaying Medusa adds another layer to the mythological tapestry. Armed with a mirrored shield to avert direct eye contact, Perseus courageously beheaded Medusa, later harnessing her severed head as a potent weapon against adversaries.

Historical Context

Repurposed Art

The Medusa heads, believed to be repurposed from earlier Roman structures, and potentially dedicated to pagan deities, inject nuances into the historical narrative of the cistern. The adaptation of these iconic symbols underscores the interconnectedness of civilizations and their artistic expressions.

Symbolic Placement

The intentional arrangement of the heads sparks contemplation on their symbolic significance. Theories abound, linking the positioning to mythological beliefs, perhaps aimed at preserving the power and essence of Medusa's gaze or contributing to the overall aesthetic of the cistern.

Visiting the Basilica Cistern


Immersed in a subdued glow emanating from dim lighting, the cistern's ambiance is enchanting. Reflections dance on the water's surface, and the ancient architecture adds to the mystical allure. The immersive experience beckons visitors into a different era, where history and myth seamlessly intertwine.

Modern Interpretation

Contemporary visitors are invited to navigate the cistern with a profound sense of wonder. Acknowledging the coexistence of historical and mythological dimensions, they can appreciate the Basilica Cistern as a living testament to the enduring power of ancient tales, preserved within the confines of its subterranean chambers.

In essence, the Basilica Cistern emerges as a tangible bridge between antiquity and the present, where mythological narratives intersect with architectural history. As visitors explore its subterranean chambers, they are invited to unravel the intricate threads of Greek mythology woven into the very fabric of this remarkable structure.

Discover the Basilica Cistern and its mythological stories with Istanbul E-pass today!