Tuesday, January 17, 2017


Sultanahmet, Fatih - Istanbul - Turkey

GPS : 41°00'14.6"N 28°58'29.9"E / 41.004056, 28.974972

 photo nakkas_cistern102.jpg


A four-story boutique in Sultanahmet called Nakkaş is sitting on an incredible treasure: a 1,400 year old cistern. Here one can find exhibits, book signings, discussion and concerts being held. And the best part is that the store owners don’t charge anything for those looking to attend such events.

This year the sun was reluctant to join us for some time, but the short period of time it did come out saw a great buzz in the Sultanahmet area. The picture created by thousands of backpack-wearing tourists pounding the cobble-stoned streets of the Old Peninsula gives the feeling of an exhibition taking place in the town. Speaking of a feeling of discovery, if the underground is something you’re interested in, then make sure that you jot down cisterns on your list of must-see venues.

There is a particular cistern in Sultanahmet that is well known, but serves a bit of a unique function. This is the cistern located beneath the Nakkaş store. This four-story boutique, which sells rugs, jewelry and ceramics, sits on a historic Byzantine site measuring 35 meters high and 10 meters wide. Nowadays the venue is protected by the Historical and Cultural Monument Protection Agency of the Ministry of Culture; however, Nakkaş plays a role in protecting the site as well. Here, even nailing something on the wall is strictly prohibited as the agency conducts inspections from time to time.

The most important attribute of the historic site is that it can be seen free of charge, even during times when it’s used as a gallery. Nakkaş’ owners, such as Hakan Kaptan, take pride in the fact that they don’t charge for visiting the venue. Kaptan says the building was built atop a steel cast, meaning there are steel cages in the corners of the structure and thus the actual store doesn’t touch the cistern underneath. For this reason it took approximately 10 years to build the store, a process that was quite costly.

Kaptan explains how proud he is of the cistern being able to serve as a cultural venue: “In years past an Italian artist held an exhibit here, in addition to an Austrian cello artist. An American group called The Whiffenpoofs from Yale also performed here twice. Holding activities here is truly wonderful and our doors are open to anyone who is interested in attending.” Byzantine emperor with water phobia filled cistern in with soil.

According to a book titled “Yeraltındaki İstanbul” (İstanbul Underground) by Ersin Kalkan, there are 72 known cisterns in the city. These cisterns, which worked to meet the water needs of the city during the Byzantine era, still remain. The Nakkaş cistern in particular, due to the size of the bricks and the style of the column heads, appears to have been built around the end of the fifth century to the beginning of the sixth century. Despite being quite old, it has survived until today.

When a cistern is being built, first a ditch is dug, then walls are built around it and columns are erected. Then aqueducts and domes are placed on the structure. The water is stored after being channeled towards the structure. Then the caps are opened and water flows through pipes to faucets, hamams and palace pools. In its initial stages, the Nakkaş cistern provided water as well. However, Byzantine Emperor Heraclius is said to have filled it with soil due to his fear of water; Emperor Basil I later cleared out and restored the cistern to its original function.

There is a cistern around the back of the Blue Mosque, beneath a narrow street that winds around and down towards the Sea of Marmara; located in the basement of the Nakkaş carpet shop. Walking in through the grand, double glass doors of the carpet emporium, I was greeted by a man in a sharp, tailored suit. I was ready to decline the sales pitch that I was sure he would deliver - by now, I’d become accustomed to it - but it never came.

We passed through the expensive displays, and disappeared down the steps towards a discrete basement level. It could have been a scene from any spy movie. Byzantium Nakkaş Sarnıcı (Nakkaş Cistern) - for want of a better name - is smaller than some of its cousins, with a location that would suggest it had supplied the Great Palace of Constantinople. Descending the narrow stairs beneath the carpet shop, the cistern opened up before us: arched roof and thick pillars lit in orange and yellow, information panels studded along either wall  and a projector screen at the far end showing animated 3D models of the former hippodrome.

The pillars running down either side were a mismatch of styles and eras. Like the Basilica Cistern, this space was apparently not designed to be looked at: smooth columns, fluted shafts, a range of different capitals that appeared to have been formed, most likely, from the offcuts of the city’s overground architecture. It is believed that Constantinople once featured several hundred cisterns.

There is another accessible cistern under the district of Eminönü; there are open-air remains at Bakırköy too, the so-called ‘Cistern of the Hebdomon.’ The Şerefiye Sarnıcı can be found behind the former Sultanahmet Belediyesi building, while the Sultan Sarnıcı in Çarşamba has been repurposed now as a restaurant. In total there are something like 24 still visible: some above ground, some below; some maintained as tourist attractions, others largely derelict.

But it isn’t only cisterns that open in unseen space beneath the streets of Istanbul. There are sacred springs, as many as 200 of them, some of which open into subterranean grottos; such as the spring behind the Hagios Demetrios at Kuruçeşme. There are even subterranean mosques - the Yeraltı Cami is one, located beneath the backstreets of Karaköy. But these sites are known; many are in operation, even, as popular tourist destinations.

Still more interesting to me were the legends - the rumours and urban myths about deeper networks of tunnels constructed beneath Constantinople, ancient passageways long-since lost to the people up above. Nakkas has been built on top of a carefully restored 6th century Byzantine cistern. A visit to this column-filled cistern is the first step to an exciting shopping adventure. Nakkaş has a stimulating and relaxing ambience which will provide fond memories.


WEB SITE : Nakkaş Halı

E-Mail : ​info@nakkasrug.com
Phone : +90 212 516 5222
Fax : +90 212 516 5223

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