The Basilica Cistern

Clay, Water, and the Romans

Episode 3: The Basilica Cistern - Clay, Water, and the Romans

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In the middle of Istanbul, amidst the eye-catching structures like the Hagia Sophia and Blue Mosque, is a non-descript entrance that leads you underground to a cavernous space. Built up from red bricks with beautiful quadripartite arches floating above marble columns, this is a truly wondrous example of Roman construction. But what is it and why was it built?

Host Roma starts with water - how important it is to humans and why engineers have had to battle to find it, store it and use it.

She visits the Institute of Making and speaks to Darren Ellis, potter and expert on clay. He demonstrates how to work clay to create a consistent materials, tells her about its history and even lets her have a go on the potter's wheel. A real expert in his craft, and the material that enables it, Darren shares some fascinating insights on this ancient material. 

Medieval Historian Dr. Rebecca Darley delves into the story of the builders of the Basilica cistern - the Romans. Her passion for the structure shines through as she tells us about its prolific builders and history. She explains what it was used for, and we learn about the importance of water to civilisations. She recommends that you, like her, visit often and take your family! 

Want to know how arches and domes (like those seen in the cistern) work?

Here's a quick film of Darren working his magic on the wheel!

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