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Basilica Cistern

From The Marmara Pera
14 Min
40 min
Address Alemdar, Yerebatan Cd. 1/3, 34110 Fatih/İstanbul
Phone +90 (0212) 512 15 70


9 AM to 7 PM


Nestled within Istanbul's historic Sarayburnu quarter lies the Basilica Cistern, a mesmerizing underground chamber that traces its origins to the sixth century. Similar to the Hagia Sophia Mosque, this architectural marvel was commissioned by Byzantine emperor Justinian as part of a network of cisterns designed to collect rainwater. Today, the Basilica Cistern stands as the largest cistern accessible to the public, showcasing its grandeur and historical significance. 

Resembling a subterranean cathedral, the Basilica Cistern boasts an impressive assembly of 336 columns, repurposed from ancient temples, forming a majestic and ethereal environment. While it once had the capacity to accommodate a staggering 80,000 cubic meters of water, it now stands mostly vacant, save for small pools where occasional schools of carp gracefully glide. This symmetrical and serene expanse stands as a remarkable architectural achievement, providing tangible proof of the Byzantine empire's remarkable infrastructure. 


History of Basilica Cistern 

During the 3rd and 4th centuries, an illustrious basilica, which served as a bustling hub for commerce and civic affairs, occupied the very grounds that now house the Basilica Cistern, hence its name. Emperor Constantine constructed an initial incarnation of the cistern to supply water to the basilica's gardens. Subsequently, Emperor Justinian undertook the task of rebuilding and enlarging the cistern to cater to the needs of the majestic Great Palace of Constantinople. Even after Constantinople succumbed to the Ottoman Empire, the Basilica Cistern remained an indispensable water source, ensuring the supply for the renowned Topkapi Palace. 

In the year 1545, a renowned French scientist and adventurer named Petrus Gyllius made a remarkable rediscovery of the cistern. Although the local population still relied on its water, the cistern had fallen into obscurity, neglected by city authorities and those in power. The resourceful locals would retrieve water from the cistern using buckets, and on occasion, they would even manage to catch fish within its depths. However, it was not uncommon to come across unfortunate occurrences where deceased bodies and other debris would be found floating in the water. 

In the year 1987, the Basilica Cistern was unveiled to the public, transforming into a sought-after tourist destination. Extensive efforts were made to eliminate the mud, restore the columns to their former glory, and install wooden platforms for visitors to traverse and explore the area. These enhancements ensured an accessible and captivating experience for those who wished to visit. 

Why Visit? 

The Basilica Cistern, apart from its captivating and occasionally eerie history, stands as a splendid and refreshing sanctuary. Its striking beauty offers respite from the scorching summer heat, and the ancient columns within it are truly captivating, deserving of admiration. Notably, nestled within the left-hand corner of the cistern, one can discover two intriguing Medusa heads. Positioned at the bases of columns, one is inverted while the other rests sideways. According to popular belief, this deliberate arrangement serves as a safeguard, preventing Medusa's gaze, known for its mythical ability to turn individuals into stone, from affecting visitors within the cistern. 

In addition to the captivating Medusa columns, the Basilica Cistern is an absolute must-visit due to its enchanting and seemingly impossible existence, as well as the sheer beauty of its design. 

How to Visit 

Situated just a stone's throw away from the Hagia Sophia Mosque, the Basilica Cistern is conveniently located within a short distance from Istanbul's city center. It welcomes visitors every day from 9:00am to 7:00pm, except for the first day of public holidays when it operates with slightly reduced hours. To check Turkey's public holiday schedule, you can find more information here. 

At the Basilica Cistern, admission tickets are available for 300 TL (Turkish lira), approximately equivalent to 15 USD.

Discover the Free Things to Do in Istanbul for an Unforgettable Experience! If you're in search of exciting adventures and remarkable sights, look no further. Istanbul offers a plethora of captivating activities that will leave you in awe. Explore the vibrant streets, indulge in delicious cuisine, and immerse yourself in the rich history and culture of this enchanting city. Don't miss out on the best things to do in Istanbul! 

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