The Basilica Cistern is a must-see on any visit to Istanbul. It is fascinating to go underneath and observe where water was kept in the past. It is definitely a one-of-a-kind experience. The cistern was built in 532 by the Emperor Justinian. 336 columns were used in total. Located on an area of approximately 10,000 square meters, the cistern was used to store the city’s water needs in the past. Restored in 1985, the cistern was opened to the public in 1987 and is now one of the most popular tourist attractions in Istanbul.
In contemporary English, the term “basilica” refers to either a building with a central nave and aisles or a big church with a curving end and two rows of columns. The well-known Basilica Cistern in Istanbul is none of these. It is just an old water reservoir. It was the largest of over 200 Byzantine period cisterns under Istanbul. Because of the rows of columns within, it should have been titled as such. Columns and capitals from previous pagan temples were reused in its construction, giving it a very ornamental aspect. As a result, it is frequently referred to as ‘saray,’ which translates to ‘palace’ in Turkish.
What to expect from your visit?
A city as old as Istanbul has many layers of history, and the Basilica Cistern, the greatest of the underground cisterns, is located under the surface. The cistern is located between the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia.
The atmospheric reservoir was built in the sixth century for the Byzantine emperor Justinian and is reinforced by 336 columns, many of which have been reused from other ruins throughout the years.
The Medusa-head column bases and the carp that swim silently in the poorly lighted waters are popular subjects for photographers. The best time for you to visit is anytime the queue appears to be short, particularly on a hot summer day—it is always cooler beneath.
With walkways above the water and hundreds of columns lit from below, they have done a phenomenal job with the atmosphere down there. Make a point of finding the Medusa capitals towards the rear. The right amount of fright and awe.
The Basilica Cistern underneath Istanbul is an astounding sight—underground and dating back to the 6th century. Make sure you look for the upside-down Medusa sculpture at the rear. It is remarkably non-odorous or smelly. Try it out!
Tour Basilica Cistern on Video
Hours and Fees
Basilica Cistern is open every day between 09:00-18:30.
- Entrance to Basilica Cistern is 190 TL
- There are also variety of guided tours with skip-the-lines entry
Getting to Basilica Cistern Tips
Basilica Cistern is located in Sultanahmet neighborhood, directly across the street from the Hagia Sophia, which belongs to Fatih district. See on google map.
For those coming from Taksim, Galata or Besiktas areas, can take the Kabatas-Bagcilar T1 tram line passing through Kabatas, Karakoy, and get off at Sultanahmet stop.
For those on the Asian side of Istanbul, can take the ferry to Eminonu or take the Marmaray line from Uskudar and get off at the Sirkeci stop. And than you can take the Kabatas-Bagcilar tram line passing through Eminönü and Sirkeci stops, and get off at Sultanahmet stop.
Address: Alemdar Mh., Yerebatan Str. 1/3, Fatih, Istanbul
Tel: +90 212 512 15 70