byzantine basilica

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The Basilica Cistern, is the largest of several hundred ancient cisterns that lie beneath the city of Istanbul/Constantinople. It was built in the 6th century during the reign of Byzantine Emperor Justinian I. The bases of two columns reuse blocks carved with the visage of Medusa. The origin of the two heads is unknown, though it is thought that the heads were brought to the cistern after being removed from a building of the late Roman period. There is no written evidence that suggests they were used as column pedestals previously. Tradition has it that the blocks are oriented sideways and inverted in order to negate the power of the Gorgons’ gaze, however it is widely thought that one was placed sideways only to be the proper size to support the column. The upside down Medusa was placed that way specifically because she would be the same height right side up.

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At the moment I’m revising the Venetian Renaissance for my final exams in History at Oxford University, and reading about the Piazza di San Marco, Basilica di San Marco & the Scuola di San Rocco, I can’t help but imagine myself back in Venice! It was so beautiful.