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Basilica Cistern

From The Marmara Sisli
20 Min
1 hr 30 min
Statue of a man in the middle of the Basilica Cistern

Nestled in the historical Sarayburnu neighborhood of Istanbul lies the Basilica Cistern, an awe-inspiring underground chamber dating back to the 6th century. Similar to the Hagia Sophia Mosque, it was commissioned by Byzantine Emperor Justinian as part of a network of cisterns designed to collect rainwater. Presently, the Basilica Cistern is the most extensive accessible cistern among hundreds of others. 

Basilica Cistern can be likened to a subterranean cathedral, featuring 336 columns originally sourced from ancient temples. These columns merge to form a magnificent and ethereal expanse. While it could store up to 80,000 cubic meters of water in the past, today, the cistern is mostly unoccupied, except for a few small pools that accommodate the occasional school of carp. The symmetrical and serene ambiance of the space is a testament to the architectural prowess of the Byzantine empire and showcases their remarkable infrastructure. 


History of Basilica Cistern 

During the 3rd and 4th centuries, a renowned basilica, which served as a public hub for various activities including commerce, stood above the site where the Basilica Cistern now exists, hence its name. Emperor Constantine constructed an initial version of the cistern to supply water to the basilica's gardens. Later, Emperor Justinian reconstructed and enlarged the cistern to meet the water demands of the Great Palace of Constantinople. Following the Ottoman Empire's conquest of Constantinople, the Basilica Cistern persisted in supplying water to the Topkapi palace. 

In 1545, Petrus Gyllius, a renowned French scientist and adventurer, stumbled upon the Basilica Cistern, which had been primarily overlooked by the city authorities and other officials, despite being in use by the locals. The residents extracted water from the cistern using buckets and also fished in it, but unfortunately, it was not uncommon to find lifeless bodies and other debris in the water. 

The year 1987 marked the public opening of the Basilica Cistern, which rapidly rose to prominence as a favored tourist destination. Restoration work included the removal of mud, the repair of columns, and the installation of wooden platforms, facilitating visitors' movement throughout the expanse. 

Why Visit? 

Basilica Cistern, with its intriguing and, at times, eerie history, presents a stunning and refreshing haven from the scorching summer temperatures. Its stunning columns from bygone eras serve as a testament to the craftsmanship of yesteryear, begging visitors to bask in their magnificence. Notably, two Medusa heads are found at the left-hand corner of the cistern, both situated at the base of columns. One is upside down while the other is turned sideways, leading some to speculate that their placement was strategic, intending to avert Medusa's gaze from transforming onlookers into stone, as recounted in Greek mythology. 

Aside from the enigmatic Medusa columns, the Basilica Cistern is an essential destination renowned for its otherworldly and seemingly impossible creation, as well as the splendor of its captivating architecture. 

How to Visit 

Located steps away from the Hagia Sophia Mosque, Basilica Cistern is a short distance away from Istanbul’s city center. It is open daily from 9:00 am to 7:00 pm, with shorter hours on the first day of public holidays. You can find Turkey’s public holiday schedule here 

Tickets can be purchased at Basilica Cistern for 300 TL (Turkish lira), which is about 15 USD. Many tour services offer guided tours of Basilica Cistern.

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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