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Fountains & Cisterns of Istanbul

Water was the lifeblood of Constantinople, and as such, many monuments erected to direct it’s flow still stand today in Istanbul. Between the cisterns, fountains and aquaducts, there are water-related historical monuments and landmarks everyhere you look.

Famous Cisterns of Istanbul

The Basilica Cistern is by far the most famous in Istanbul, but it’s not just a marvel of engineering, but a masterpiece work-of-art below ground.

1. Basilica Cistern

The Basilica Cistern is the strongest link of Istanbul to the Byzantine Empire. It was built in the 6th century during the reign of Justinian I, who was known as an established codifier and legislator. Contrary to existing sources, the Basilica Cistern wasn’t underneath the Great Palace of Constantinople during the time of the Byzantine empire. Instead, it was atop a public complex called the Stoa Basilica.

In connection, an even older Basilica existed before Stoa Basilica during the 3rd and 4th centuries. This basilica faced the Hagia Sophia. On its face was a lush garden and surrounding it were marble or granite colonnades.

It’s known that the Basilica Cistern was funded by Justinian I. However, historical records show that he is well-educated in public administration and warfare but not in engineering or architecture. So, an unnamed architect must have overseen the building of the cistern. Nevertheless, what historians are sure of is that it took 7,000 slaves for Justinian to build the Basilica Cistern. These might have come from Hispania, Africa, Dalmatia, and Italy.

The Basilica Cistern’s purpose as a water supply and storage center didn’t change as Constantinople transitioned to becoming Ottoman Istanbul. In modern times, the Basilica Cistern is a well-known film set and tourist destination due to its iconic beauty and proximity to the Hagia Sophia and Topkapi Palace.

Famous Fountains of Istanbul

In many aspects, the fountain of Constantinople were more than just a source of water. They were a place to gather, to bathe, and to socialize in one of the most modern ancient cities in history.

1. Fountain of Ahmed III

The Fountain of Ahmed III lays in the Uskudar grand square built-in 1728 – 1729. It is one of Sultan Ahmed III’s most notable contribution aside from the famous mosques. Travelers used the fountain as a source of potable drinking water. People living in Uskudar also used the fountain as a trusty source of water for ritual washing.

Sultan Ahmed III decided to build the fountain in Uskudar because it’s the burial place of his mother. The fountain of Sultan Ahmed sits at the Iskele square that’s near to the Mirmirah Sultan Mosque. However, this isn’t the original location. Fountain Ahmed III first stood on the foreshore of the Bosporus so that travelers can easily access it.

The Fountain of Sultan Ahmed III underwent two major restorations. The first one was for mending the defective parts of the fountain. The second one in 1955, was to raise its elevation.

2. German Fountain

The German Fountain in Istanbul might be the only old fountain in the city that the Ottomans didn’t build. Since it looks steady, no one would ever believe that this fountain is actually made of multiple pieces. It was manufactured in Germany, then transported to Istanbul by ships where the pieces were combined to make the whole.

Opening the building of the fountain was Wilhelm II’s tour to European and Eastern states. His purpose was for building a railway that would connect Europe and Asia, and provide a free flow of goods to and from Prussia, the country that he governed.

Prussian companies highly agreed to this idea and considered gifting Wilhelm II with a fountain who was currently in Istanbul. It’s good to note that the Ottomans were highly suspicious of Wilhelm II, though they welcome him with open arms.

The building of the German Fountain in Istanbul might also have been to encourage building political ties with Sultan Abdulhammid II. At present, the German fountain is a sign of the Ottoman Empire’s relationship with Prussia in the past.

3. Tophane Fountain

The Tophane Fountain was founded by Sultan Mahmud I. It was built shortly after he replaced Sultan Ahmed III on the throne. Just like the Fountain of Sultan Ahmed III, the Tophane fountain provided a potable source of water for drinking and ritual washing.

Two restorations projects were done for preserving Tophane Fountain. The first, conducted in 1832, changed the form of its roof. The second one is more lengthy and commenced from 1956-1957. Its purpose is for making Tophane Fountain appearance cope with the rapid urbanization of Istanbul.

At present, Tophane Fountain is a great stop for tourists enjoying their meals in the nargile cafes of Istanbul’s Tophane Quarter.