Basilica Cistern

About Basilica Cistern

Also known as Yerebatan Sarayi or Yerebatan Sarnici, the basilica cistern Istanbul is amongst the largest ancient water cisterns in all of Turkey. A perfect example of the traditional Byzantine style of architecture, this cistern is also the abode of stunning sculptures, including that of the Hen’s Eye Column as well as the Medusa Pillar Bases. Located in close proximity to attractions like the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia in the city, the basilica cistern Istanbul also dates back to the 6th century, when it was built by the Byzantian emperor Justinian I, in 542 AD. The cistern was constructed to serve as a place for water storage for the Great Palace during the Byzantine eras, and for the Topkapi Palace during the Ottoman eras.

Attracting many millions of tourists every year, the basilica cistern Istanbul spans across an expanse of more than 9,800 square metres, and boasts of 336 columns, all of which are unique and beautiful in their own ways. The cistern, at its very best, could hold 80,000 cubic metres of water, which was filtered and then sent to different monuments in the city. It was first opened to tourists in the year 1987 after extensive repairs made by the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality.

Interesting Facts of Basilica Cistern

  • The basilica cistern Istanbul was first constructed to be used as an underground water reservoir for the Byzantine emperor Justinian I in the 6th century
  • The basilica cistern architecture boasts of the traditional Byzantine style, and is 140 metres in length, 70 metres in width, and covers an area of 9,800 square metres
  • The monument gets the name “Basilica” from the religious structure that was previously built on this site where the cistern exists now
  • The basilica cistern Istanbul is accessible by 52 stairs, and has 336 Corinthian style columns, all of which are 9 metres high

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History of Basilica Cistern

The basilica cistern Istanbul is believed to have been built in 532 AD by Justinian I, the Byzantine emperor. Measuring approximately 453 by 212 feet, the basilica cistern architecture boasts of a traditional Byzantine style. It can store almost 80,000 cubic metres of water at a time to supply water to the palace as well as the entire city of Byzantium. At the time when it was constructed, the basilica cistern Istanbul was located under the Stoa Basilica, which also gives it the name of “Basilica.”

In the year 476 AD, the Basilica Cistern was reconstructed by Illus, after parts of it were damaged by fire. Back then, it was decided that the basilica would consist of gardens, and would be surrounded by a colonnade, whilst also facing the Hagia Sophia. In the erstwhile eras, the basilica cistern Istanbul served as a water reservoir, and provided water for the Great Palace of Constantinople, and other buildings located on the First Hill. It also provided water for the Topkapi Palace during the Ottoman eras and has continued into the modern times as well.

Throughout history, the basilica cistern Istanbul has undergone a lot of repair, during the 18th century as well as multiple times in the 19th century by Sultan Abdulhamid II. The present-day Cistern was built by Constantine, and had fallen into disguise during the reign of the Ottoman. However, it was many years later, when scholar Petrus Gyllius found the monument, that the Cistern gained its lost fame back. As of today, it boasts of many raised wooden platforms, along with vaulted ceilings and a myriad of attractions, all of which make the basilica cistern Istanbul one of the most popular tourist attractions in the city.

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Head of Medusa

One of the best attractions in the basilica cistern Istanbul are the two Heads of Medusa. When you walk to the back of the Basilica Cistern, you can witness two huge columns, both of which are held up by majestic Heads of Medusa. While one of the heads lays upside down, the other lies on its side, thereby giving the entire place an almost eerie, yet a thrilling appeal.

While it is not sure as to why the Heads of Medusa are placed in such positions here, it is believed that they were both recycled from an antique building during the late Roman period. According to legend, Medusa was a sea nymph, and was considered to be the most beautiful of the three gorgon sisters. She was also courted by Poseidon, and also made love to him in the temple of Athena. Due to this, Athena, out of sheer fury, transformed Medusa into a grotesque-looking beast, with snakes in place of hair. It is also said that anyone who would look into Medusa’s monstrous face, would turn into stone.

A lot of visitors and historians believe that the Heads of Medusa are placed in the basilica cistern Istanbul to ward off evil. Some others believe that it was the Emperor’s way of suggesting to his people that he considered the Pagan gods dead.

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Know Before You Go

Plan a Visit
Tips on visiting Basilica Cistern

How To Reach

By Taxi: To get to the basilica cistern Istanbul, you can avail a taxi ride from the Istanbul Airport directly to the monument. You can also take a taxi to Sultanahmet, from where the monument is located close by.By Tram: You can also avail a tram ride to the Basilica Cistern, from the T1 tram line, which is located quite close to this attraction.

Best Time To Visit

The best time to visit the basilica cistern Istanbul is between the months of March to May, and then between September to November. This is when the city has a very pleasant temperature, with longer days, little to no rainfall, and weather nice enough to explore the different attractions with comfort.


The basilica cistern Istanbul is located at:Alemdar, Yerebatan Cd. 1/3, 34110 Fatih/İstanbul, Turkey

Distance from Istanbul Airport

The Basilica Cistern is located around 40 kilometres away from the Istanbul Airport, and it takes anywhere between 30 to 45 minutes to get here.

  • It is best to book your tickets to the basilica cistern Istanbul in advance since you might have to wait for a long time in waiting queues to get physical tickets at the venue

  • You cannot use the museum pass of other museums to avail entry to the Basilica Cistern, and will have to purchase separate tickets for it

  • It is also advisable to carry a light jacket or cardigan when visiting the basilica cistern Istanbul, since it is underground, and tends to have cooler temperatures

  • You must also wear comfortable and sturdy shoes when visiting the Basilica Cistern, since it can get slippery due to the damp and water here


Why Should I Visit the Basilica Cistern?

You must visit the basilica cistern Istanbul since it is one of the most famous attractions in the city. In addition to having immense historical importance, the cistern also boasts architectural beauty, and is home to thick Corinthian stone pillars that support the huge brick vaults here. It is also where the famous Hollywood film Inferno, starring Tom Hanks, was filmed in 2016.

What are the Basilica Cistern Opening Hours?

The basilica cistern Istanbul is open from:- 09:00 a.m. to 05:30 p.m. (November to March)- 09:00 a.m. 06:30 p.m. (April to October)

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How to Get to The Cistern?

By Taxi: A taxi is the easiest way to reach the historical Cistern from Airport By Tram: Take the T1 tram line which will take you around 50mins to reach the location

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How old is the Basilica Cistern?

The Basilica Cistern Istanbul is more than 1500 years old, making it one of the oldest and largest cisterns in all of Turkey. It was built in the 4th century, around 532 AD.

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What are the best things to do in Istanbul?

Which are the best places to visit in Istanbul at Night?

Here are some of the most popular places to visit in Istanbul at Night:- Grand Bazaar- Bosphorus Cruise with Dinner- Dancing Fountain at Sultanahmet- Hamami Turkish Bath- Arnavutkoy Nightlife

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