Cistern reuse is an undoubtedly special enterprise, because of the uniqueness of the basic characteristics of the structures involved. These subterranean vaulted chambers that were once used for storing water feature very few openings for light, air and even visitor flow in their interior. The interior itself is free of partitions, yet it is also broken up in rather inconvenient surfaces by the maze of columns on which the vaulted roof rests. Lastly, in cases where water collection persists, cut-through movement proves impossible.
All these specificities pose questions to which the recent reuse of two prominent cisterns of Istanbul, the Basilica Cistern and the Cistern of 1.001 Columns, offers didactic answers.
The Basilica Cistern was turned into a visitor attraction, which offers on a permanent basis merely the possibility of a didactic stroll in its interior. Yet within this framework, the latter is not only enhanced, but actually reaches the point of becoming a uniquely fascinating setting that appeals to the very senses of the visitors. The retention of water on almost the entire cistern bed, the careful insertion of artificial lighting in ingenious variations and the overall limitation of modern supplements for visitor convenience, namely staircases and elevated walking planes, to the least required prove the key contributors to this end and, moreover, to the upgrading of the conventional didactic stroll to a truly memorable experience.
The reuse of the Cistern of 1.001 Columns is a clearly different case. Here, an earlier infill of the interior up to a considerable height produced from the beginning a flat floor, in other words a usable surface of much larger size compared to that of the elevated walking planes of the Basilica Cistern. This surplus was exploited for the pursuit of an expanded functional scheme. The cistern became not only an exhibit by itself, but also home to a number of small-sized shops and an exhibition on the history of Istanbul. Within this framework, the monument is certainly enhanced. Nonetheless, owing to the inevitable absence of water and the similarly unavoidable lighting needs of the functions it accommodates, the additional creation of a spectacular setting, similar to that of the Basilica Cistern, proves out of reach.