Sultan Cistern

Sultan Cistern is a Late Antique cistern now functioning as a restaurant

Sultan Cistern is located near the southeastern corner of the Open Cistern of Aspar near Yavuz Selim Mosque. It is a Late Antique cistern, perhaps dating the sixth or seventh century. It is possibly the cistern of the palace of the patrician Bonos (died in 627), where Romanos I Lekapenos (920-944) reportedly later built a summer residence. Sivâsî Tekkesi (Sivas Sufi Lodge) was built on top of the cistern during the Ottoman era. Ottoman records indicate that the original building of Sivâsî Lodge was a church converted by Şeyh Muhyiddin Muhammed Efendi (d. 1514). The lodge was used by different branches of the Khalwati order during the Ottoman era. The lodge building, which had been rebuilt, disappeared by the end of the 19th century. The cistern was used by Armenian silk spinners by the late 19th century. It later functioned as a warehouse before being abandoned after 1987, after which it fell into disrepair. After being restored, the cistern has functioned as Sultan Sarnıç restaurant since 2007. The Sufi lodge was recently rebuilt on top of the cistern.

The cistern has a rectangular plan, measuring 29.1 x 18.7 m. The cistern is only partially underground and its upper walls have 26 windows that provided air circulation. It had a door on the façade and a staircase giving access to its interior, the remains of which can seen on the southwestern side of the building. The corners of the cistern are beveled to counter the lateral pressure exerted by the water inside. The floor originally was covered with brick tiles. The cistern walls are 2.8 m thick and its bricks are 4 cm thick with mortar joints 7 cm thick. The hydraulic plaster (5 cm thick) covering its walls was removed during the restoration. No evidence for its inflow and outflow channels has been recorded. Its location in the city suggests it was supplied by the Valens water supply line that terminated in Binbirdirek Cistern.

The vaulted ceiling, consisting of 40 small brick cross vaults, is supported by a total of 28 columns (4 rows of 7 columns, around 4 m high and 3.8 m apart). While 6 columns are granite, the rest are made of Proconnesian marble. The columns are 50-55 cm in diameter. One column has a Latin cross (height 50 cm) carved in bas-relief on the shaft. The 28 columns rest on attic bases of various types. Before the restoration of the cistern, many capitals and impost were discolored, suggesting fire damage. Careful cleaning revealed the high quality and good state of most of the capitals, though some have worn surfaces, and one capital is missing an entire side. All of the capitals and imposts are spolia made of Proconnesian marble.

Written with the help of Dr. Kerim Altuğ

Water Supply Systems inside Constantinople

Map by James Crow

Capitals

The cistern is virtually a museum of Late Antique capitals. There are a total of 36 capitals: 28 are column capitals (26 are Corinthian capitals) and eight Ionic impost capitals reused as impost blocks. There are 9 Corinthian capitals with crowded acanthus, probably dating to the first quarter of the fifth century. There are also 17 Corinthian capitals with mask acanthus, which could date from the late 4th century to the early 6th century. There are two composite capitals, including one with windblown acanthus, which most probably belongs to the fifth century. The other has mask-type foliage with egg-and-dart frieze, volutes, and rope motif on the abacus, which dates from the late 4th century to the early 6th century. Most of the capitals support impost blocks, including the eight Ionic impost capitals reused in place of impost blocks. One impost block is elaborately decorated on one side. There are five Ionic impost capitals used as imposts that are decorated only with a cross on the main face; they date to the fifth or sixth century. Two impost capitals have a central Latin cross surrounded by two large acanthus leaves on the corners of the main face. Two lilies protrude out of the leaves filling the spaces between the upper terminals of the cross. The rolled volutes are large in size with an egg motif and foliage set between them. They have acanthus leaves on the long sides and opposite side. They perhaps date to the second half of the fifth century. Another has a similar main face, but is very different long side and back. The back has a flower enclosed in a sort of wreath. The long sides have vines and large leaves divided in the center by a vertical bar. One impost capital has a chrism enwreathed by an ivy tendril, flanked by acanthus leaves. It also has acanthus leaves on the long side and a cross flanked by acanthus leaves on the opposite side.

Windblown Acanthus Composite Capital (5th century)

Ionic Impost Capital (with cross on opposite side) reused as an impost block

Composite Capital with egg-and-dart frieze, volutes, and rope motif

(Late 4th century to the early 6th century) 

Corinthian capital with crowded acanthus

Impost capital used as impost block

Corinthian capitals

Impost capitals used as impost blocks 

Corinthian capital with crowded acanthus

Impost capital used as impost block

Corinthian capital with mask acanthus

Impost block with elaborately decorated face

Ionic Impost Capital

Corinthian capital with mask acanthus

Latin cross carved in bas-relief on column shaft

Cross vaults of the ceiling

Exterior of the cistern

Cemetery of Sivâsî Sufi Lodge

Sultan Selim insurance map by ​​Pervititch (1929)

Plans by Forchheimer & Strzygowski

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References 

Altuğ, Kerim. İstanbul'da Bizans Dönemi Sarnıçlarının Mimari Özellikleri Ve Kentin Tarihsel Topografyasındaki Dağılımı

Betsch, William. The History, Production and Distribution of the Late Antique Capital in Constantinople

Crow, Bardill, & Baylis. The Water Supply of Byzantine Constantinople

Forchheimer, P. & Strzygowski, J. Byzantinischen Wasserbehälter von Konstantinopel

Altuğ, Kerim.  “Reconsidering the use of spolia in Byzantine Constantinople”

Barsanti, Claudia.  “Le cisterne bizantine di Istanbul: nuovi dati sulla scultura dal V al VII secolo. La cisterna n. 9 (la c.d. Cisterna della Scuola)”

Resources

“Sultan Cistern” Photo Album (Byzantine Legacy Flickr)

Byzantine Cisterns of Constantinople Photo Album (Byzantine Legacy Flickr)

Crow, James. “Water Supply of Constantinople” (History of Istanbul)

Sivasi Tekke Mescidi Sarnıcı (TAY)

Tanman, M.B. “Sivasi Tekkesi” (İslâm Ansiklopedisi)

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