Cistern of Philoxenos

Binbirdirek (“Thousand and One Columns”) Cistern, possible the Cistern of Philoxenos known from textual sources, though it is perhaps more likely identified with the open cistern in Cağaloğlu (see below)

The Cistern of Philoxenos is known to have been located somewhere west of the Hippodrome of Constantinople. There are two candidates for this cistern in the area, Binbirdirek Cistern and ruins in Cağaloğlu.

Binbirdirek Cistern (“Thousand and One Columns” Cistern), the second largest covered Byzantine cistern in the city, lies 200 meters southeast of the Column of Constantine. It was located between the Forum of Constantine and the Hippodrome, just south of the Mese. It has a rectangular plan with brick walls and beveled corners, measuring around 64 x 56 meters and a capacity of around 40,000 cubic meters. Its roof consists of brick vaults supported by 224 (14 rows of 16) marble columns, which are spaced 3.75 meters apart. These vaults consist of bricks arranged in concentric squares up to its crown, while its walls are lined with hydraulic plaster. The double columns are around 12 meters tall that were connected with stone collars. The current floor is higher than its original level, thus most of the columns are not fully visible. They had impost capitals and the masons’ marks on the capitals and stone collars. The cistern originally carried a building, though its identification is unknown.

Its original name is uncertain, though it probably dates to the late 5th or early 6th century. While traditionally attributed to Philoxenos during the reign of Constantine, it is also possible that it was named after Flavius Theodorus Philoxenos, consul of 525, or a magister officiorum named Philoxenos, attested in first half of the 5th century. It is also possible that the cistern Philoxenos had built was elsewhere, such as the nearby structure in Cağaloğlu identified as an open-air cistern. Regardless, this cistern played an important part of the water supply system of Constantinople. It was on a separate water supply line than the nearby Basilica Cistern, being about 18 meters higher in elevation. It was filled by the same line as the Aqueduct of Valens and was intended to ensure a balanced supply throughout the year.
The cistern no longer served as a water reservoir by the Ottoman era. Travelogues described the cistern being used in the production of silk as early as the late 15th century. In the 17th century, Vizier Fazlı Pasha built a palace in the area of the cistern. In the 19th century, it was again used as a workshop for silk spinners. In the 20th century, it was first used as a warehouse before becoming a museum. It was restored in 2003.

Cağaloğlu Cistern consists of the remains of a massive wall located a short distance north of the Mese. Part of its east wall can still be seen from the west side of Bab-ı Ali Street near Cağaloğlu Anatolian High School. It dates to the Early Byzantine era, perhaps to the 5th century, and consists of alternate bands of rough mortared rubble and of brickwork with a length of 90 meters. Originally it was suggested it might be the remains of Severan Walls of Byzantium. Excavations in 1968 revealed that the wall went 14 meters deep without reaching the bottom, leading to its identification with the eastern wall of a huge open cistern. The identity of this cistern is unknown, but it might be the Cistern of Philoxenos (or perhaps the Theodosius Cistern or the Cisterna Maksima), which is known to have been in the general vicinity.

Binbirdirek Cistern

is a common Mason’s Mark

Photo by Guillaume Berggren (1870)

Photo by Sebah & Joaillier

Drawing by Thomas Allom (1836)

Mark Twain’s description of the cistern from The Innocents Abroad (1869):

“We visited the Thousand and One Columns. I do not know what it was originally intended for, but they said it was built for a reservoir. It is situated in the centre of Constantinople. You go down a flight of stone steps in the middle of a barren place, and there you are. You are forty feet under ground, and in the midst of a perfect wilderness of tall, slender, granite columns, of Byzantine architecture. Stand where you would, or change your position as often as you pleased, you were always a centre from which radiated a dozen long archways and colonnades that lost themselves in distance and the sombre twilight of the place.”

Drawing by W.H. Bartlett (1838)

Reconstruction by Wulzinger

Godart-Faultrier

Forchheimer & Strzygowski

Plan by Forchheimer & Strzygowski

Cağaloğlu Cistern 
Cağaloğlu Cistern.jpg
Cağaloğlu Cistern.jpg

Possible depiction of  cistern (in top right corner)

From 16th century engraving by Onofrio Panvinio

Hypothetical plan by Bardill

References 

İstanbul'da Bizans Dönemi Sarnıçlarının Mimari Özellikleri ve Kentin Tarihsel Topografyasındaki Dağılımı by Kerim Altuğ

Die Byzantinischen Wasserbehalter von Konstantinopel by Forchheimer & Strzygowski

Two Romes: Rome and Constantinople in Late Antiquity edited by Lucy Grig and Gavin Kelly

Brickstamps of Constantinople by Jonathan Bardill

The Great Palace of the Byzantine Emperors by D. T. Rice

“The Palace of Lausus and Nearby Monuments in Constantinople: A Topographical Study” by Jonathan Bardill

Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium edited by Alexander Kazhdan

The Oxford Handbook of Byzantine Studies edited by Robin Cormack, John Haldon, and Elizabeth Jeffreys

“The Water Supply of Constantinople” by Cyril Mango

Sources

The Innocents Abroad by Mark Twain

Resources

Byzantine Cisterns of Constantinople Album (Byzantine Legacy Flickr)

Water Supply (Nicholas V. Artamonoff Collection)

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Created by David Hendrix Copyright 2016