Fildami cistern, it’s role in constantinople

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Serhat Goncal 20050340 26/12/2009



Fildami Cistern is one of the four biggest reservoirs of late antiquity in Byzantium, Constantinople. Different than most of the other cisterns and other open-air reservoirs in Constantinople, Fildami Cistern is not situated in the historical peninsula which is covered by Land Walls constructed by Theodosius and at this concept Fildami is an extraordinary monument, compared with other cisterns inside of city walls, which can survive until now. Fildami is an open-air reservoir which is situated in the west side of a valley running north wards from the Sea of Marmara. It is constructed next to the Magnaura and Jucundianae palaces and nowadays Veliefendi Hippodromme, in Bakirkoy (the ancient Hebdomon), Osmaniye.

Bakirkoy called as Hebdomon in Greek or Septimus in Latin, being seventh roman miles of the Via Egnetia’s road which is started from the zero point of Constantinople, the Million, in antiquity. It was a separate community outside Constantinople, a well watered pleasant seaside retreat from the city distorted to Hepdoman. It was also called as Makro Hori (long town) at the end of Roman Empire. The suburb served as an important parade and assembly ground for the army, and was the scene of imperial coronations in the 5th century. Emperor Valens built the imperial Palace of Magnaura and the church of St. John in Hebdomon was also built here. Fildami Cistern is one of the most important monument in Hebdomon which can survive as mostly protected monument until present days.

The Roman city of Byzantium on the natural boundary between Europe and Asia was refounded as Constantinopolis in AD 330 by the emperor Constantine. The city became a focus for imperial patronage and display, quickly acquiring the grand urban structures expected of any classical metropolis; the fora, baths, colonnaded streets and hippodrome. The walls of the old city were expanded and within two decades the urban population began to grow exponentially and new living spaces, suburbs are started to be created outside the city walls, as Hebdomon. At a time when many western cities stagnated or shrunk in size, late antique Constantinople expanded and flourished in both cultural and physical wealth, to provide a secure urban setting for the eastern empire into the later middle ages. To provide this expansion, city was needed new water supplies to distrubute into to the expanding city borders in healty way and it is builded lots of aquaducts, channels, cisterns and open air reservoirs to provide that amount of water to the city especially at end of the IV th, V th and VI th centuries as Fildami Cistern Aquaduct of Vallens and etc. However based on historical sources the system maintained continuity until the end of the VII th century.

Fildami as being one of the massive open-air reservoirs from the late antique city, build in Hebdomon, played a fundemental role in the provisioning of extanding metropolis. Three of these reservoirs, Aetius, Aspar and Mocius constructed in the 5th century lay on high ground within the Theodosian Land Walls. The Fildami is unusual in that it laid outside the walls, to the north-east of the Hebdomon, its role perhaps then tied to the development of this palatial suburb, serving the troops and the animals that musterd before and after campaigns on the kampos. Some of its water may have been piped to the nearby imperial palace at the Hebdomon. (the water supply of Constantinople After the late 12th century the long term system had been abandoned as a result of cumulative seismic damage and after the fall of the city to the Ottomans at 15th century (1453), a new system was constructed in the 16th century based entirely on the closer sources at Halkali and in the Forest of Belgrade but Fildami Cistern is one of the most permanent monument build to supply the water to the city, most of other water supplier channels, water bridges, cisterns and aquaducts which were disrupted by earthquakes or by Ottoman Empire.

Besides we do not know the exact date of the cistern; we guess that Fildami cistern is constructed in V-VI centuries. This guess is made by Dr. Tulay Ergil based on the size of the bricks because the size of bricks is 330mm square which help us to suggest a post Justinianic date and apparent absence of brick stamps in the structure suggests a date after the end of six century. However the scalloped form of external and internal buttressing was an established form of Roman construction and was recommended by Vitruvius and is thus unlikely to be a significant chronological guide, Water Supply of Constantniople, James Crow). The walls are bonded from the bottom to the top with seven stones and seven bricks in a row.

It stands on the west side of a valley running north wards from the Sea of Marmara. Its west walla is buried within the valley side, and it was necessary to buttress the wall internally agains the weight of the hillside. This butressing was achieved, as is not uncommon in Roman and Byzantine cisterns and retaining walls, by buildind it on a scalloped with nineteen niches, creating a series of projecting butresses, bringing the thickness of the wall to 7.0m.(the Water Supply of Constantinople, James Crow)

Fildami is an open-air reservoir of the early Byzantine Empire, 1500m far away from the coast of Marmara Sea and the west side of Cirpici stream (Istanbul Ansiklopedisi, Page 318). The measure of the cistern is 127x76m and the walls are visible to a height of about ten meter and its depth is measured as 11m. Therefore it is estimating that its first shape is deeper than nowadays form. (Istanbul Ansiklopedesi, Page: 318). In total area it is somewhat smaller than the other open reservoirs within the Land Walls. It is only 1.000m2 larger in area than the Yerebatan Cistern.

We do not know how the Fildami was supplied. It is situated at a relatively low elevation and a number of springs further up the valley which provide sufficient discharge. Alternatively, a channel might have been built, branching from the long distance supply line coming from Thrace. (Resource I, page:134)

One of the most interesting things of the reservoir is the piezometric tower on the exterior of the south-west corner. The piezometric tower is a giant water tank and is used to restabilish the nominal value of hydraulic pressure in an aqueduct by releasing water when the value of the pressure drop below a certain limit. The tower was a double-shell structure, with the outer casing of the tower separated from an internal spiral staircase by a space within which the water from the reservoir could flow. From within the tower it was possible to see outflow channels leading away from the reservoir in different directions. The tower served to regulate the water level and control distribution from the multiple outflow channels, presumable each with a different destination. There was a single inflow channel from the reservoir into the tower, situated at a low level. (Resource II)

There is not a common knowledge where the name of “Fildami” came as the name of the open air reservoir or cistern. However historicians think that elephants of the army and the palace of Ottoman Empire are kept in this field and that’s why the name of the cistern is putted as Fildami.(Resource VI) Therefore Fildami Cistern is also known as Hebdomon Cistern in some sources as well.(Resource V)

Fildami is not used for anything for long years until the 1998. Between the years 1998 to 2003, Fildami was used as exhibition center in which lots of domestic and international famous groups like The Blue Brothers, Roger Glover, Dream Theater, and singers like Haluk Levent, Teoman and Ibrahim Tatlises display their perfomance. However in 2003 the concert programmes were cancelled because of the damage of high volume to the walls of the cistern and because of the disturbence to the horses in Veliefendi Hippodrrome. Nowadays, Fildami Cistern is used as recreational area for the native people of Bakirkoy under the control of Bakirkoy Municapilaty. Lots of people without considering any age differences, realize their morning gym, running on to the tartan runway which builded in to the cistern even in some of my visit of Fildami Cistern I saw Turkish Youth Athletics Team working in Fildami Cistern. The green area inside of the cistern is used as football pitch.

Like other historical places Fildami is also facing with some problemes like garbages and damages from some of the people who don’t have a historical consciousness, because of the indifference of the government and the other people. However there is no a desperate situation of Fildami cistern comparing with other historical areas, because eventhough Fildami is facing with some problemes, the community is conscious about the cistern. We can see this consciousness obviously from the effect of the cistern to its environment, most of the name coffees, buffets, and buildings are carrying the same name with the cistern.


-The water supply of constantinople, James CROW, Jonathan BARDILL and Richard BAYLISS (resource I)

- (resource II)

-TC Anitlar ve Muzeler Genel Mudurlugu 19. Arastirma Sonuclari Toplantisi 2. Cilt (Resource III)

- Istanbul Ansiklopedisi (Resource IV)

-Yurt Ansiklopedisi (Resource V)

- (Resource VI)

-Google Earth

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