One of Istanbul’s most unique historical locations is the Basilica Cistern, constructed during the Byzantine era to suit the city’s water needs. The Basilica Cistern must be visited on any trip to Sultanahmet. Although it cannot be stated that it has had as much of an impact on history as Hagia Sophia or Topkapi Palace, this 1500-year-old structure has such a magical and majestic atmosphere that it must not be overlooked.
Although Sultanahmet excursions might be rather exhausting, keep going and keep going until you reach the Basilica Cistern. We guarantee that you’ll think it was a good idea that you visited Basilica Cistern Istanbul.
The history, architecture, and lore of the Basilica Cistern are all included in the content in this article. For those who will visit, we have also compiled our travel guide notes.
The Basilica Cistern’s History
The Cathedral The Cistern was constructed by the Byzantine Emperor Justinian I (527–565) to supply water to the Great Palace, the imperial palace, and other locations in the area. Actually, before him, Constantinos I had built a cistern in the same location. However, a nearby fire severely damaged that cistern. The burning cistern was expanded and rebuilt by Justinian I, who also built the cistern that still stands today. The Bozdoan Aqueduct and other aqueducts also transported water to the cistern from the Belgrad Forest.
The cistern, which measures 140 x 70 meters and covers 9800 square meters, has 336 columns with rows ranging from 28 to 12. Basilica which can hold up to 100,000 tons of water, eventually earned the name “Basilica Palace” because of its opulent interior, which is large and lined with numerous columns.
The cistern was sealed after the Byzantine Era and remained deserted for many years. On it, houses were erected. Later, due to the stagnant water in the cistern, the Ottomans only used it for activities like watering the garden at Topkapi Palace (flowing water, which is acceptable).
The homes erected over the cistern were cleaned in the 1940s, and in 1955, the three-year cleaning and repair project got underway. At that time, mirror carp were introduced to the cistern, which now contains mirror carp (sources from the 1500s also mention the presence of fish in the cistern). The cistern was made into a viewing platform and made accessible to the public by the municipality in 1987.
Tourist and Visitor Information for the Basilica Cistern
How long should you allow yourself to spend at the Basilica Cistern?
Given the size of the Basilica Cistern, it takes about 45 minutes to walk the entire thing.
Does Muzekart is accepted in Basilica Cistern Istanbul?
The Müzekart is not utilized here because the Basilica Cistern is not connected to the Ministry of Culture.
How much does it cost to enter the Basilica Cistern?
The total cost is 190 TL for foreign visitors and 50 TL for Turkish citizens. However, prices change frequently so pricing may differ now.
How to Order Tickets for the Basilica Cistern?
No sales of tickets online. Tickets are available at the entrance.
Entry to the Basilica Cistern is Cheap or Free
Children under the age of eight are admitted free of charge.
Is there Guided audio for Basilica Cistern Istanbul?
Inside the cistern, you will find a tiny cabin with attendants who will assist you with the audio guide. Your visit here will be far more meaningful with audio guidance than just wandering.
What is the visitor Hours for the Basilica Cistern?
Every day of the week, the Basilica Cistern is open to tourists. Every day from 9:00 and 17:30, you can go. The cistern opens at 13.00 on the first day of religious holidays, which is the only exception.
Before Your Visit
- Wet Platform: When a building is a cistern, it is typical for there to be a lot of water within. Although the trip platform is wet occasionally, visitors visiting the cistern are not in direct touch with the water because they are walking on it. If you ever notice water leaking from the ceiling, don’t be alarmed. This is brought on by the cistern’s evaporated water re-condensing. Due to higher evaporation in the summer, more water drips from the roof and wets the walking platform. Wearing non-slip footwear is a smart idea.
- Lighting for cisterns: The interior of the cistern is kept somewhat dark to preserve its ethereal aura, which makes it challenging to see some of the designs on the columns. In this regard, our article will serve as a guide. However, using a phone to take images is rather challenging.
- Humidity: The aforementioned evaporation produces remarkable moisture in the area. We also think it’s important to alert people who have breathing problems in humid situations.
- Water Level: Due to restoration efforts, the water level in the Basilica Cistern may occasionally be purposefully decreased. You might be let down if you run into such a time. Since it is a historical body of water, it is customary, to make a wish by tossing a coin into the water. So, before you go, we advise you to look up and find out the most recent information on the cistern’s water level. In some cases it may occasionally be entirely emptied. Ask, especially if you plan to bring a tourist companion because if the Basilica Cistern doesn’t have enough water, it might not live up to expectations.
- Fish: Although they don’t resemble mirror carp at all, the large fish that swam around in the water were minor carps. There are a lot of these fish that may be seen, especially around the lighting fixtures.
- Make Wishes: There are coins scattered among the fish. Visitors have thrown these coins as wishes. You can make a wish when you visit by tossing a coin into the water. Although we don’t know for sure, it is reported that the officials may occasionally collect these coins and store them in the cistern’s safe.
Cistern Columns in a Basilica Cistern Istanbul
There are 336 columns inside the cistern, each nine meters high. While exploring the area, you could discover a variety of architectural styles. This is because many columns from previous buildings from that time period were combined in the Basilica Cistern. With the exception of a handful that are angular and fluted, all of these columns are cylindrical. Additionally, 98 of the column capitals are in the Corinthian style, while some are in the Doric style.
Columns with Medusa Head in Basilica Cistern Istanbul
The three columns with the Head of Medusa in the Basilica Cistern are without a doubt the most intriguing ones. The location beneath the pier that is reached by stairs is where the Medusa Heads remain as they migrate in the northwest direction inside the cistern. You might get the impression that the columns were not long enough and were added to the bottom, but that they were from a Roman construction IV based on the image of the heads standing on their heads beneath the columns. These skulls, which date from the 16th century and are believed to have been carved there, were brought, but it is unknown exactly where and how. As a result, the columns’ eerie atmosphere was kept, and when mythology was engaged, the columns gained notoriety.
As you may recall from mythology, Medusa is a woman with a serpent for a head. The most well-known Medusa tale claims that she was a victim of envy. According to legend, Medusa was a highly attractive woman with long hair and black eyes who fell in love with Perseus, a god and the son of Zeus. In a fit of jealousy, Athena, who had fallen in love with Perseus, stripped Medusa of her beauty and transformed her hair into a snake.
Every male who dared to look at Medusa after this curse became stone. Then, after cutting off Medusa’s head, Perseus used her strength to vanquish several foes. Another myth claimed that one of the three siblings, Medusa, had the ability to turn everyone who looked at her into stone. Since the time of Ancient Greece, key locations have been guarded by Medusa’s head because of its protective quality.
Tragic Column (Pillar of Tears)
Contrary to other columns, the Weeping Column contains motifs known as peacock eyes and resembles a pruned tree trunk. It also includes tales similar to those of the Medusa Headed Column. The motifs on the column, according to mythology, were depictions of the suffering endured by the slaves who labored in the Basilica Cistern. The cistern’s center is where the column is positioned. Another widely held notion is that individuals who insert their finger into the gap in their body will have their wishes fulfilled. This column is also known as the “wish column” for this reason.
Approaching the Basilica Cistern
The Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque, and Hippodrome are close by because the Basilica Cistern is situated in Sultanahmet Square. You might wish to visit these nearby buildings while you’re here because they are close by. The Grand Bazaar is not far away.
While you’re here, we advise you to visit the Serefiye Cistern, which is 8 minute walk from the Basilica Cistern and is located directly behind Sultanahmet Square. After a successful restoration, the cistern was organized by the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality and made accessible to the public in 2010. With its lighting and magical ambiance, it is a sight to behold. One of Istanbul’s oldest water features is the cistern, which dates back over 1,600 years. It is believed to have been constructed under Theodosius II’s rule (408 – 450). It is accessible to tourists every day from 9:00 till 5:00. The cistern features a 360-degree mapping system and a 10-minute mapping show every hour. For a location, click.
What to eat near Basilica Cistern Istanbul
You will feel quite hungry if you visit the Basilica Cistern and decide against seeing any other Sultanahmet attractions. Let us offer you some recommendations for restaurants or rest stops where you can get a coffee at the conclusion of your journey.
Historical Sultanahmet Koftecisi
As you may guess from the name, Sultanahmet Köftecisi, also known as Selim Usta’nn Yeri, is the actual location of the fabled Sultanahmet Meatballs. Be prepared for the classics at the meatball restaurant, which has been open since 1920, and choose a serving of grilled meatballs with piyaz instead. Please remember that credit cards are not accepted at this location.
Poika Cafe, for Coffee Break
When you exit the tram, you will come to one of the side streets where Poika Cafe is situated. It will catch your eye right away because, in contrast to all the original textures, it is a contemporary cafe. Their tea is from Chado, while their coffee is from Petra. Nothing compares to keeping an eye on the activity on the street, especially at a table by the window. Sandwiches for breakfast or a snack are also available.
Where is the Basilica Cistern Located?
The Kabataş-Baclar tram offers the quickest route to the cistern because, after getting off at the Sultanahmet stop, you can quickly walk there. When arriving by Marmaray, passengers can disembark at the Sirkeci stop, then ride the tram to the Sultanahmet station from the Sirkeci tram stop. If you’re taking the boat across the street, you can take the tram from Eminönü in the same manner, or you can use the municipal buses that leave from here. Use the parking lots near Eminönü or Topkap Palace if you want to arrive by car.