A Trip to the Cistern Underneath Kadir Has University By Touran Samii

A Trip to the Cistern Underneath Kadir Has University

The final field trip of our Byzantine art class took us to the wondrous backstreets of traditional Istanbul neighborhoods around the Golden Horn. We arrived at the Kadir Has University which houses a historic cistern in its undergrounds. The underground water system echoes Byzantine cisterns made of brick and mortar and often times, containing sand and shells. The structure consists of a series of degrading terraces and barrel vaults. Barrel vaults are an extension of a simple arch, creating a semi-cylindrical ceiling (Kleiner 161). Historically, barrel vaults in the Roman Empire were built using traditional ashlar masonry. Moreover, a growing vault is created by the intersection at right angles of two barrel vaults (Dr. Alessandra Ricci). The best examples of growing vaults can be found in the ruins of the Great Palace located in the Hippodrome, the city center of historic Constantinople.
Although this architectural structure is used to store water and is thus, waterproof, mold and algae is apparent on the walls of the cistern. This is due to poor ventilation that has also caused the structure to slowly decay. Thus, water vents and air circulation are essential to cisterns and their efficiency in storing and providing water to the city. More importantly, these aqueducts were connected to large water revenues, which illuminates the location of this cistern adjacent to ports along the Golden Horn. These harbors were crucial to trade, the movements of goods and ideas, to and from Constantinople. Constantinople was one of the largest ports in the Mediterranean with a geopolitical advantage due to its location between the Black Sea and the Sea of Marmara as well as the Golden Horn and Bosphorus River (Branning 4). In this way, it was a thriving metropolis and a powerful and influential actor that was not isolated from the greater Empire and beyond.
The beneficial location of this cistern also lead to its use as a tobacco factory constructed above the underground waterway in the 19th century. The tobacco factory was a function of European industrialization that occurred at the time. This factory was operated by women because of their ability to work with the fragile tobacco leaves. As an industrial entity with a large number of employees and a product that generates profit, this industrial unit had great implications for the surrounding neighborhoods. It produced a number of facilities such as businesses, a hospital, and schools and extended the trade network that was already in place.
Upon entering the cistern, I was amazed with the preservation of the structures, especially the rows of parallel columns still containing the decorative capitals. I was intrigued by the multiple layers of architecture and the amount of information they had when properly excavated by archeologists. Above the cistern, a museum sits which still includes the iron beams from the tobacco factory. This incorporation of the various uses of the space over the centuries was very well executed and interesting from an art historical perspective. I genuinely enjoyed walking into the depths of a cistern reminiscent of Byzantine times and around the museum, looking at the various artifacts.

Works Cited

Branning, Katherine. “Trade.” The Seljuk Han in Anatolia. 21 August 2001. Available Form http://www.turkishhan.org/trade.htm.

Dr. Alessandra Ricci. “Cistern Underneath Kadir Has University.” Istanbul. 19 December 2009.

Kleiner, Fred S. et al. Gardner’s Art Through the Ages: The Western Perspective. 11th Edition. Belmont: Wadsworth Publishing, 2008.

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Published in: on January 9, 2010 at 23:26  Leave a Comment  

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