One of the historical spots in Istanbul, the Basilica Cistern Museum, was restored to its original state and reopened to the public in 2018. besides the earthquake-strengthening improvements, the museum’s lighting was overhauled.
There are countless antiquated cisterns, Under Istanbul’s streets and homes. But Basilica Cistern in Istanbul is a unique tourist destination and also is the largest one among the two accessible cisterns which are open to the general public.
The Byzantine Emperor Justinian I constructed this Cistern in the sixth century to provide a water storage facility for the Great Palace. The Basilica Cistern is one of Istanbul’s most impressive museums and unquestionably one of the top sights you shouldn’t miss on your vacation.
Underground Basilica Cistern
Across the street from the Hagia Sophia is where visitors enter the Istanbul Basilica Cistern. This enormous underground water reservoir was constructed in 532 to supply the water requirements of the Great Palace under the rule of Emperor Justinian I. This incredible feat of engineering serves as further proof that the Byzantine Empire was at its height at that time.
Basilica Cistern, which takes its name from the Ilius Basilica, has 143 meters long, 65 meters broad, and has 336 marble columns. The columns of the Basilica Cistern are in the Ionic or Corinthian styles, and each of them reaches 9 meters in length and, importantly, supports the roof. They are arranged in 12 rows with 28 columns, spaced at four-meter intervals.
Inside the Cistern
The Basilica cistern is 140 by 70 meters and holds up to 100,000 m3 of water. The Cistern boasts 336 9-meter-high columns with varied styles, having been recycled from many of the older structures and monuments. The tourist route takes place on walkways that lie above the water. These were added at the end of the 20th century, and beforehand the way took place by boat.
The Attractions near the Basilica Cistern
The Hagia Sophia Grand Mosque and Sultanahmet, or the Blue Mosque, as well as other Byzantine and Ottoman-era buildings, are all within walking distance of Istanbul’s Basilica Cistern, also known as Yerebatan Sarnc or Sunken Cistern.
Things you can do at Basilica Cistern
Discover Istanbul’s magnificent Basilica Cistern, often known as the “Sunken Palace,” by entering the city’s hidden underground world. The Basilica Cistern is the biggest and best-excavated of the few remaining underground water cisterns that are now accessible to tourists.
The Basilica Cistern reopened to visitors in July 2022 after being closed in 2020 for restoration. This Cistern not only has the subsurface construction been updated, but it has also been strengthened to withstand earthquakes.
In the Basilica Cistern, the marble columns are perhaps the first thing you’ll notice while visiting the Cistern. They appear from the river and support the building from the sixth century.
There are 336 well-preserved columns arranged in twelve rows. The nine-meter-long columns are all different, but most of them are cylinder-shaped and show early Byzantine and Corinthian characteristics.
The reflection of the columns in the lake is really breathtaking. The illumination from the spotlights gave the surroundings an almost mystical glow that gave the impression that they were in another universe. You can hear the sound of cold water splashing down from the brick vaulted ceiling while walking on the platform. You might be shocked to see fish if you glance into the water because there are typically many carp frolicking there.
Heads of Medusa
The two ancient Medusa heads from the Roman era have garnered a lot of interest. In the Cistern, look for the two historic columns with the snake-haired Medusa from Greek mythology at their bases. Both enigmatic heads have located northwest of the Cistern. The Medusa heads were positioned sideways and upside down.
The reason for the Medusa heads is unknown, although it is thought that they were there for protection because that was a customary practice in Classical Greece and Rome.
The column with tears, a Hen’s Eye, and slanted branches is another column to look out for. It is thought that the tears are a tribute to the many slaves who died while working on the Cistern.
The Basilica Cistern is also used as a setting for events because of its excellent acoustics and breathtaking surroundings. Don’t pass up the opportunity to see a concert here if you get the time.
It is not unexpected that the Basilica Cistern has served as the scene for a number of international films, given its stunning surroundings.
Here, you may revisit sequences from movies like James Bond’s “From Russia with Love,” Dan Brown’s “Inferno,” “The International,” with Clive Owen, and “The Accidental Spy,” to name a few.
Several Historical Facts about Basilica Cistern
The Byzantine Emperor Justinian I issued a decree in 532 authorizing the construction of the Basilica Cistern (Yerebatan Sarnc in Turkish). The about 140-meter-long and 65-meter-wide underground Cistern was constructed as a water storage facility for the Great Palace.
The term “Basilica Cistern” comes from a massive basilica that formerly stood above the complex but is no longer standing. Eighty thousand million liters of water may be stored in the massive Cistern. The royal household and other locals were supplied with the highest quality water that was transported here from the north of Belgrad Forest.
The Cistern was twice renovated during the Ottoman era, but as the Ottomans preferred running water, it was no longer used—except for a brief period when it was used to water the gardens of the Topkapi Palace.
After significant repairs by the Istanbul Municipality, it wasn’t until 1987 that the Basilica Cistern was made accessible to the general public. The Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality Culture Co. now oversees the Cistern. The 2020 rehabilitation of the Cistern was halted due to the potential for collapse. It has been welcoming visitors once more since July 2022 and, since then, has undergone numerous improvements, including an exhibition.
Where is Basilica Cistern?
The address of Basilica Cistern is Yerebatan Sarayı, Yerebatan Cad. Alemdar Mah. 1/3 34410 Sultanahmet-Fatih/Istanbul.
From Sultanahmet Square, it is a short distance to Basilica Cistern, and from Hagia Sophia, it is located just northwest. On the other hand, from Taksim, you just need to take the F1 funicular to Kabataş, then the tram T1 from Kabataş Station seven stops to Sultanahmet Station. Basilica Cistern is only two minutes far.
Opening time and Ticket price of the Basilica Cistern
Basilica Cistern is open from 9:00 to 19:00. It is advised to buy your ticket online to avoid waiting in line. For visiting Basilica Cistern, you can get the VIP ticket for just Basilica or get the VIP combo ticket for Istanbul, which includes tickets to the Topkapi Palace, Hagia Sophia, and the Basilica Cistern.