Goddesses in the Dirt: A Tale of Subterranean Medusas

Unearthing the Divine Feminine, one archetype at a time...

It's eerie, I have to admit. When I came upon this sculpture I had to ask myself - why is it lying sideways, submerged in water.......and underground? But this is what I happened upon, one searing hot day, deep beneath the streets of downtown Istanbul...

Who would ever think, that under such magnificent buildings such as this

and this

and this

.......lay this....an ancient subterranean basilica...

Built in 532 B.C. by the Emperor Justinian, this structure was used as a reservoir for water storage, and during the Ottoman period was used to water the grounds of the famous Topkapi Palace.

Strolling along this vast underworld

we came upon this mysterious sign

leading to this......so why were two heads of the mythological character the Medusa placed down here?

Supposedly the sculptures were taken from another site by the Christian builders who did not want to honor a pagan god, so they were placed sideways and upside down. Additional theories suggest the unusual placement was done to ward off evil, or to negate the power of the Medusa's gaze.

Who was Medusa?
Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Head of Medusa, marble, ca. 1640
Like many of the Greek myths, the tale of Medusa serves as a warning to mortals who anger the gods.......or in this case, a goddess. Medusa was a Gorgon, or female monster, who was blessed with a beautiful face and gorgeous long hair. One day Medusa was at the temple of Athena and caught the attention of the god Poseidon, who took her as his lover. Athena caught wind of the affair and flew into a rage. To punish Medusa she turned her glorious head of hair into a nest of vipers and made her so hideous that anyone who looked upon her would turn to stone. 

Medusa's ultimate demise came when Perseus, the son of Zeus, attempted to rescue his mother Danae from King Polydectes. In order to do so, he needed to retrieve the head of Medusa, whose blood was said to be all-powerful, and could be used to reanimate the dead. With the help of Athena and Hermes, the messenger god, he accomplished his mission by using the gifts he was given: a shield which reflected the Medusa's deadly glance and a curved sword to sever her head.  
Benevenuto Cellini, Perseus and Medusa, bronze, 1545-54
So if you ever find yourself beneath the streets of Istanbul, be sure to follow these mysterious signs

for a truly hair-raising experience....
Caravaggio, Medusa, oil on canvas  c. 1598
Photos courtesy of author and Google images


  1. My guess is she was placed sideways in order to negate her power. Christians in particular can be superstitious.
    What a beautiful fantastic place to visit Amanda!

  2. I was thinking the sideways placement to negate the curse was also probable. This is the second post with Medusa's image I've seen, today. The first one was about warding off the evil eye.

  3. The story of Medusa always gave me the creeps. Somehow negating her curse sounds good to me. Like you, I am always fascinated by what lies beneath the buildings we see. In Verona there is a church under which there is a medieval church and beneath that there is a Roman temple. Fascinating stuff.

  4. How chilling it all is! The green stones, the statues, the portraits...as creepy as they come! If it's all the same, I think I'll stay on the surface for this one! Thanks so much for sharing Medusa's legend, Amanda!

  5. Whoa, I just posted a pic of Medusa today! That subterranean architecture is amazing, absolutely breathtaking.

  6. interesting! who would suspect that you will find it in a bascilica!

    Life and travelling

  7. We (as in J and I) have been reading Percy Jackson stories to our grandchildren while they were visiting. We even saw one of the videos, where Percy cut off Medusa's head. Interesting coincidence of timing.

    Medusa stories are complex, indeed.

    Thanks for sharing these "dirty" (perhaps "earthy" is a better word) stories.

    1. thanks to you, r-bear, your granddkids are getting a robust education in greek mythology!

  8. It has been some time since I read the stories of Medusa and I have never seen or heard of these heads stored in the subterranean underworld. Can you imagine what the first modern day explorers thought when they saw those heads for the first time!

    Loved your visit to Santorini bringing back wonderful memories of that paradise.


    1. i think that might take a few years off one's life to be holding a lantern exploring this chamber in the darkness and to suddenly come upon one of these sculptures - yikes!

  9. I saw Clash of the Titans as a little girl (the one from the 80's) and while it inspired me to dress as Andromeda for Halloween, it left me absolutely terrified of Medusa! But in fairness, I was in kindergarten :)

  10. As creepy as the story of Medusa is...no one can deny the "odd" beauty in the sculptures you shared with us. Cellini's majestic bronze beauty is spectacular.That last canvas...that one's Creepy! eeek.

  11. What an interesting story this is. I didn't know that she got that hairdo by being a femme fatale - doesn't really seem fair does it? And Poseidon probably got off cheap. I love that underground basilica - it still looks shiny and wet, and I can imagine all the water down there waiting to water those famous gardens.

  12. Medusa is scary but hearing the story of how she got her bad hair day makes me feel sorry for her. How odd to have the statue submerged.

  13. Fabulous post! And right on the heels of my Belinni post! Great *Twin* Minds!!!
    Thank you for your more in-depth historical lesson...her legend had always fascinated, yet saddened me.

    The photos of her face, lying half-submerged in those murky, green waters are so powerful....and a testament to how mankind (once and perhaps still - who knows) feared the Gorgons. I was just riveted to those shots. I can only imagine the expression on your face when you saw the (Medusa - this way) sign....wow...I would have been right there with you! I love the shot of you and your DH...a little out of focus, like the powers emanting from Medusa's snaky tresses and her icy stare were trying to surround the two of you! The whole subterrnian chamber is really quite wonderful.

    WOW! I am still thinking about this.... so interesting...

    Big Hugs,

    ♥ Robin ♥

  14. Had to come over and see your photography and archaeological excavations. Good to be traveling and following your passion. Are you in the US or in Greece or Turkey?

  15. Fairy-tale places and beautiful photographs. I am greeting

  16. love this! you take me places and let me linger. and now i know why i tend to turn my head sideways when i am considering another view. mm, good stuff.

  17. According to Yonste, Amanda, you are way over 80.
    Go ahead.
    Lose some years.
    As a matter of fact, maybe , with your great travels, you could enlighten some of us about the French tours with NATOUR?
    I think it's on Latedst?
    And they have great connects to Kuntness, Contse, Cunce, Pecunce?
    They have ties to DASSAULT?

  18. I was there last year, for four days and my time was limited. I would have definitely visited the basilica if I knew of these Medusa sculptures. Perhaps I'll return one day- now I know what to look for. Thank you for sharing.

  19. I've visited that underground cistern in Istanbul on two occasions. Did you know that part of the cistern was dried up years ago and converted into a restaurant? It is quite experience. The first time I went there over 20 years ago the cavernous restaurant did not have a single electric light; all illumination was by candlelight and there was a string quartet playing during dinner. All in 1500 year old dried up cistern! Quite an experience, for those undeterred by Medusa.


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