A few posts ago, I mentioned that my fascination with Turkey and more specifically, with Istanbul, began with the James Bond movie, From Russia With Love. I first saw this movie when I was 10 years old. At the time, I recall thinking, “What a neat city – exotic and shrouded in mystery. I wish I could visit it some day.” Some 40 plus years later, I am doing exactly that.
It seems like every place I go to in Istanbul, has a James Bond connection, especially with From Russia With Love. This movie was almost entirely filmed in Turkey. Locations shot in the movie, included: 1. The old Yesilkoy Airport, now unrecognizable as the busy Ataturk International Airport; 2. The covered market James Bond is driven to meet Ali Karim Bey, is the Grand Bazaar (Kapali CarsI), one of the largest markets in the world and still bustling today; 3.Zeytinburtu-kabatas tram runs from the Sultannahmet to the Grand Bazaar; 4. The Hagia Sophia is the magnificent mosque where Red Grant (Robert Shaw) kills the Russian agent . . . However, Grant must have been there after midnight because the Hagia Sophia IS NEVER AS QUIET OR UNCROWDED as depicted in From Russia With Love; and, 5. Yerabatan Sarayi or the Basilica Cistern as it’s known to westerners. The cistern was supposed to be located near the Russian Embassy, but actually is closer to the Hagia Sophia.
When I visited the Basilica Cistern, I was expecting a very narrow passageway, similar to what I perceived in the James Bond movie. Not even close. It’s actually quite wide and the columns rise majestically to cathedral height. The lighting really captures the mood that you would expect in an underground cavern, albeit, it isn’t optimal for taking photos (especially with my tablet camera). The actual measurements are approximately 140 meters by 65 meters. For you people that measure by feet, it is almost 105,000 sq. feet, capable of holding 2,800,000 cu. feet of water. I also found it interesting that the columns were different in style. There are 336 columns, in 12 rows, but the column styles were a mish mash of mostly Ionic and Corinthian, with a few Doric columns thrown in.
None of the columns are engraved, except for one which is engraved with hens eyes, slanted branches, and tears. There were also two interesting columns in the far corner of the Basilica Cistern – two Medusa heads, one which is upside down and the other which is sideways. They both are at the foundation of each column. According to Wikipedia, the origin of the two heads is unknown. It’s also not known why they are upside down and sideways, respectively. However, it has been theorized that the heads are oriented sideways and inverted to negate the power of the gorgons’ gaze.
One last comment with regard to the From Russia With Love movie. Not true that the cistern was commissioned by Emperor Constantine as Ali Karim Bey told James Bond in the movie. It was actually commissioned by the Emperor Justinian in the year 532AD. My friend Ted from the Flap would be proud of me for pointing this out (since he is such a serious film buff).