I can’t possibly count the number of articles I’ve read on destinations fit for every Tolkien fan’s travels. There are countless written, and no doubt many more in the works, but one thing I can say is that while they all include New Zealand at the top of their lists, not a single one of them mention the Basilica Cistern in Istanbul. As a Tolkien fan I find that very disappointing.
Now I have no doubt in my heart and mind that New Zealand is the Shire personified, and it’s definitely on my bucket list, but I still feel like the Basilica Cistern is worth mentioning because… well, because of THIS:
A thousand apologies for the generally terrible quality of the pictures. This was taken over three years ago and I had an iPhone 4 at the time that was on the verge of death, but that’s besides the point! Tell me, my fellow Middle Eartheans. What do these magnificent columns and water channels remind you of? Here, I’ll give you a hint:
That’s right. I have yet to visit the Shire, but I’ve been to the Mines of Moria and I didn’t have to fight a Balrog on my way out.
The Basilica Cistern is one of many ancient cisterns built under the city of Istanbul. It was constructed in the reign of Byzantine Emperor Justinian I sometime in the 6th century. It is said that it was originally a grand Basilica with large blossoming gardens facing Hagia Sofia before Emperor Justinian expanded and turned its remains into a cistern. It served as a water filtration system for the Great Palace of Constantinople and to other relevant buildings, including Topkapi Palace after the Ottoman conquest.
It is worth seeing for many reasons besides its resemblance to the Mines of Moria. In other words: Yes, my sweet summer child, my non-Tolkien fanatic, even you can enjoy it. For one, it’s also featured in Dan Brown’s Inferno if you’re more into that. Second, these pictures really don’t do that place any justice. It is truly a great work of architecture that existed for over a thousand years, and I was told that to this day it functions still as a water filtration system for Topkapi Palace. It’s fairly close to Hagia Sofia, which is another must-see landmark, so if you’re in the area I’d definitely recommend that you take a peek.
The one thing I will urge you to do is to make sure that you’ve got a good camera on you because while a quick Google image search might show you grand pictures of the place, let me assure you that it’s actually really, really dark inside. I think the latest iPhone/Samsung smart phone camera models are fine, but if you happen to have a professional digital camera lying around don’t hesitate to take it with you. Then again I’m a terrible photographer, so you really shouldn’t take my word for it.
Also for the love of Eru and all of Arda, if you happen to be unfortunate enough to encounter a Balrog do not confront it. I know Glorfindel and Gandalf made it look cool but human skin is really not meant to withstand the fires of hell, or even the heat of a mere curling iron, so unless if you’re in the company of a badass elf or a grey wizard- Fly, you fools!