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Basilica Cistern

From The Marmara Suadiye
40 Min

Tucked within Istanbul's historic Sarayburnu quarter lies the Basilica Cistern, an exquisite underground chamber that traces its origins to the sixth century. Similar to the Hagia Sophia Mosque, it was commissioned by Byzantine emperor Justinian as part of a network of cisterns designed to store rainwater. Today, the Basilica Cistern stands as the largest publicly accessible cistern among the many constructed during that era. 

Resembling an underground cathedral, the Basilica Cistern boasts an impressive ensemble of 336 columns, originally sourced from various temples, converging to form a magnificent and ethereal expanse. While it once had the capacity to accommodate up to 80,000 cubic meters of water, it now stands mostly vacant, save for a few tranquil pools where occasional schools of carp gracefully glide. This symmetrical and serene environment stands as a testament to the remarkable architectural prowess and the grand infrastructure of the Byzantine empire. 


History of Basilica Cistern 

During the 3rd and 4th centuries, an esteemed basilica, serving as a bustling hub for commerce and civic affairs, occupied the very spot where the Basilica Cistern stands today, giving rise to its name. Initially, Emperor Constantine constructed an early iteration of the cistern to supply water for the basilica's gardens. Subsequently, Emperor Justinian undertook its reconstruction and expansion, aiming to cater to the water needs of the illustrious Great Palace of Constantinople. Following the conquest of Constantinople by the Ottoman Empire, the Basilica Cistern continued its service, providing water to the renowned Topkapi Palace. 

In the year 1545, the cistern, which had faded from the awareness of city authorities and the general populace, was rediscovered by the French scientist and explorer Petrus Gyllius. Although the locals continued to utilize the cistern, drawing water from it using buckets and occasionally catching fish, its significance had been largely disregarded. Regrettably, on occasion, the water contained unpleasant surprises such as deceased individuals and other debris. 

The year 1987 marked the opening of the Basilica Cistern to the public, transforming it into a beloved tourist destination. Extensive efforts were made to clear away the mud, restore the majestic columns to their former glory, and install wooden platforms that now traverse the entire area, inviting visitors to explore and wander through its remarkable ambiance.  

Why Visit? 

The Basilica Cistern, a stunning and refreshingly cool sanctuary, exudes an intriguing and occasionally eerie history. It serves as an ideal refuge from the scorching summer heat, while its ancient columns stand as captivating spectacles deserving of awe. Notably, nestled within the left-hand corner of the cistern, one can discover two Medusa heads strategically positioned at the column bases. Curiously, one is positioned upside down, and the other is turned sideways. Some believe that this deliberate arrangement ensures that Medusa's gaze, capable of turning people to stone according to Greek mythology, remains averted, adding an extra layer of fascination to this remarkable site. 

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

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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