The following article was published in October 2002 issue of Turkishtime.
"Binbirdirek" Cistern, the oldest known closed water cistern of Istanbul that was built in 1672, took its place in the tourist guides as a restaurant, wine house, patisserie, cafe and bar immediately after the completion of its restoration and cleaning that took seven years.
If you construct a sentence that contains words, "Istanbul", "Sultanahmet", and "water cistern", the first place that comes to mind will be the "Yerebatan" cistern. If we talk about the "Filoksenus" Cistern or with it the Turkish name, "Binbirdirek" Cistern... It is very normal for one not to hear the name of this cistern, which is actually older than the "Yerebatan" cistern, because it was a place that does not show-up in the tourist guides and a place that does not even attract a second look by passers-by, before it was opened as a restaurant, bar, patisserie and wine house in August 2002.
The "Filoksenus" cistern was built during the reign of the Byzantian Emperor, Constantinus in the year 330 AD as the cistern of the Lavsus Palace and it is the oldest known water cistern of the city. It is thought that it took its name from a Roman senator who was always with the Emperor. It is not known where the 1001 columns, which is stated in its Turkish name, came from because there are 16 rows of columns and there are 14 columns in each row, so in total there are 224 columns. Two columns have been put together by using a wheel to reach a height of 15 meters, but since this cistern was used for the manufacturing of silk yarn, it is very difficult to see them today. If you do not look at the upper part of the cistern, the only thing that would tell that there was a water cistern is the small pool where fish swim amongst coins that have been thrown in to make a wish. Of course when you look at the upper part, the picture is quite different.
The idea of manufacturing yarn in the cistern, which was also mentioned in the travel notes of European tourists of that period, was a nice surprise, but afterwards the fate of the Binbirdirek Cistern turned and it became a historical garbage dump! One can imagine the scene inside the cistern if you think that the restoration under supervision of a council from Mimar Sinan University took 7 years and seven thousand trucks of garbage was removed from the cistern. Furthermore, the holes on domes of the cistern had been enlarged so that the garbage could be easily thrown inside.
The place is leased by Sıtkı Gülüştür for 49 years on a built-operate-transfer
model. The entrance fee is TL5 million for foreign tourists, TL2 million for
local tourists and a mere TL1 million for students. This is not only an entrance
fee, but one is also entitled to coffee, tea or soft drinks. Other than this,
one can eat whatever tickles ones fancy. The Patisserie is bursting with appetizing
cakes, pastries and other desserts. In the restaurant that has a capacity for
350 people, a large spectrum of meals from every corner of the world, from the
French to Chinese cuisines, are served. Naturally the Ottoman cuisine is a must.
Everything is home made, including the bread. You can guess from the name, Wine
House; and the Narghile House is another section that will open its doors to
the public in the near future. The other attraction of the Binbirdirek Cistern
is that it has a special license to keep it open round the clock. As hard as
it is to believe, Hayriye Canbolat, who is responsible for Public Relations,
guarantees that this place is open even if we come here at 4 or 5AM. It is certainly
worth a shot!
Prices.... There is a fixed menu for lunch at TL7.5 million, particularly designed for the tourist groups. Other than this, just to give you an idea, tea is charged at TL1.5 million and Turkish coffee at TL3 million. If your palate wishes for something slightly stronger, Beer prices start from TL3.5 million. If you want you can come here to read your book, although it is usually crowded, it is still tranquil in its own way, or if you wish you can hold your business meetings here. If you so desire, you can even tie the knot in the Binbirdirek Cistern, and your wedding photographs will carry the grace and charm of the background and you will be the subject of conversations for years to come. Exhibitions are planned, concerts are planned and more....
Binbirdirek Mah. İmran Ökten Sok. No.4 Adliye Sarayı Karşısı -Sultanahmet
Tel: (212) 517 87 25
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