An 11th-Century Building in Istanbul Reflects Three Eras

In Sultanahmet, a historic building that embodies the architectural features of three different periods stands out. The mega city of Istanbul, in addition to its modern structures, also hosts historical buildings inherited from various civilizations that lived in the area. These buildings, particularly concentrated in the area known as “old Istanbul,” stretching from Sarayburnu to Edirnekapı, are visually distinct from their surroundings.

One such historic building in Sultanahmet is a three-story structure built on an 11th-century Byzantine cistern. This privately owned building displays architectural characteristics from the Byzantine, Ottoman, and Republic periods.

The lower part of the building features repeating arches and granite columns, while the upper part, separated by a fine line of masonry, includes sections built during the Ottoman period and topped by floors added in the early Republic era.

Originally used as a cistern during the Byzantine period, the structure continued to be utilized in subsequent periods. It is believed that the building underwent repairs during the Ottoman era, and additional modifications in the early 20th century transformed it into a structure that reflects elements from three different eras.

This unique building, which attracts attention in the neighborhood, also occasionally becomes a topic on social media.

“A Structure Used as a Cistern During the Byzantine Period”

Restoration architect Olcay Aydemir, speaking to an AA reporter about the building, described it as one of the most iconic corners of Istanbul. Aydemir noted that the multi-layered nature of Istanbul is evident in this building and provided information about its features.

Aydemir explained that the building has undergone various repairs over time, stating, “This facade is essentially a cross-section. It’s almost a cross-section of three periods of Istanbul’s multi-layered history. Therefore, any work done here could highlight this multi-layered nature.”

Aydemir mentioned that the building is currently privately owned and used as a parking lot. She also recalled that there are many Byzantine structures in the surrounding area, noting that cisterns are found in the foundations of converted churches like Zeyrek, Eski Imaret, and Fethiye mosques.

Aydemir suggested that the building’s infrastructure could also be a cistern, adding, “We can only understand this with findings from extensive excavation work here. Recent excavations in Istanbul, such as in Beşiktaş and Haydarpaşa, have unearthed various periods. There could be another period beneath this as well. Istanbul is a city full of surprises. We know it’s a cistern, but we can only determine its original function with a detailed excavation.”

“These Structures Could Be Lost Without Proper Preservation”

Aydemir emphasized that the multi-layered nature of Istanbul and private ownership also pose challenges, calling for serious cooperation among property owners, municipalities, and public institutions to preserve these structures.

Aydemir pointed out that the building appears unprotected, stating, “If you undertake a very large, comprehensive preservation project, the cost would be very high. However, there are protective methods worldwide using freezing techniques. At least to prevent the facade from collapsing or being damaged, a stabilization and protection measure could be implemented, which is possible through cooperation.”

Aydemir warned that without preservation, the building could be lost due to an earthquake, minor ground movements, or water-related issues. She noted that the building dates back to the 11th century, but material analysis could date it to earlier periods.

She concluded by saying that in this building, one can observe the three layers of Istanbul on a smaller scale, as if reading a “slice of cake,” and emphasized the need for the structure to be more visible and protected.