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İstanbul’s Basilica Cistern at high risk of collapse, municipal officer warns

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An İstanbul Metropolitan Municipality (İBB) officer has warned on social media that the city’s iconic Basilica Cistern is at high risk of collapse in the event of an earthquake.

Built by Byzantine Emperor Justinian I in A.D. 542 to supply water to the palace, the Basilica Cistern is one of the most popular historic destinations in İstanbul and within walking distance of other Byzantine and Ottoman-era landmarks such as the Hagia Sophia Grand Mosque and the Blue Mosque.

İBB Deputy Secretary-General Mahir Polat said the risk of collapse was exposed by restorations that started about four years ago.

“During the process of restoration we have discovered gaps between the iron bearings connecting the columns that replaced the original wooden bearings,” he said, referring to bearings that were installed during the last restoration in the early years of the republic but have corroded over time.

“The local board for the preservation of historic structures, which gathered today to evaluate the project we submitted 47 days ago, did not issue approval for us to go ahead and install reinforcements [in the cistern],” Polat said in a tweet on Wednesday.

“We need to implement the project immediately.  We don’t have even one second to wait [to reinforce the cistern],” he added.

Turkish media reported that the wider area where the cistern is located in İstanbul’s Fatih district was also at risk of serious damage or collapse.

A similar warning was also made by Oktay Özel, head of the Department of Cultural Properties at the İBB.

“This is a place frequented by tourists and home to public and private buildings. We have to ensure their safety as soon as possible,” he told Turkey’s private DHA news agency.

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