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Under our Feet: Istanbul

The greatest things to do in Istanbul are to stroll around its ancient streets, sample regional cuisine, and take in the city's genuine vibe. Istanbul is frequently visited by travelers who want to see the artifacts left behind by the two greatest civilizations in history, the Byzantine and the Ottoman. Throughout the millennia, this stunning city in Marmara has served as the hub of commerce, trade, and the economy. For tourists, it stands out because of its historical components. We are all aware that Istanbul is home to a seemingly unending number of historical sites. The three most well-known ones are the Hagia Sophia, Galata Tower, and Topkapı Palace. But this is only the very tip of the iceberg. There are many attractions in Istanbul, a large metropolis, but what actually lies beneath those streets?

Istanbul, one of the world's most historic cities, appears to have even more mysterious discoveries to offer archaeologists, as researchers photographed never-seen-before photos beneath the grounds of the city's aptly named Historic Peninsula, which includes the Hagia Sophia Grand Mosque, Topkapı Palace, and Hagia Irene Church.

Arzu Ulaş sails across the subterranean waterways in Istanbul, Turkey on 13 June 2021. (DHA Photo)

After years of study, expert cultural heritage conservationist and historian Arzu Ulaş was able to finally document the reservoirs, submerged gardens, waterways, maksems (historical storage tanks for water), aquifers, holy springs, pit fountains, fire pools, and archaeological architectural remains beneath the Historic Peninsula.

Urban myths and stories about underground Istanbul have long existed, with many people believing there are tunnels and escape routes due to the huge ancient water systems discovered beneath the Historic Peninsula. Ulaş, who has since traversed these canals, some of them by boat, believes she has disproven these claims.

Arzu Ulaş and her findings of historical tunnels

The ancient tunnels, which once helped supply the city with water, are now deserted and filled with remnants from bygone eras such as broken jars, bones, and trash. Ulaş has been creating Istanbul's underground networks for the last three years. Before entering the black holes, she carefully examines the tunnels and channels in the old libraries and archives.

Examining more than 200 underground structures, Ulaş tells that nearly 60 of them are missing.

I want to end with what Ulaş states: “The discovery of the historical layers of Istanbul comes to light by chance during excavation works and reconstruction activities. With this work, we wanted to show that a legacy can be uncovered without hitting the ladle and to draw the invisible image of Istanbul. Seeing the unseen beauties of Istanbul and examining its concrete traces under the ground created great awareness for me. I wanted to tell and show this awareness to people.”

Works Cited:

DHA, Daily Sabah with. “Istanbul's Mysterious Underground Waterways Pictured for 1st Time.” Daily Sabah, Daily Sabah, 13 June 2021,

Macatulad, Author JB & Renée. “Visit Istanbul: Travel Guide to Turkey (2022).” Will Fly for Food, 25 Sept. 2022,

Mehmet Şimşek “Yer Üstü Zenginlikleri Kadar Yer Altında Da Gizemli Ve Büyülü Bir Dünya.”, 6 Feb. 2020,

“Osmanlı Belgelerinin Izinde Bir Yer Altı Serüveni.” FSMVÜ | Fatih Sultan Mehmet Vakıf Üniversitesi,

“Underground Cistern.” Istanbul Tour Studio – Istanbul Guide,


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