Basilica Cistern - Yerebatan Saray, Istanbul
The Yerebatan Sarnici (Basilica Cistern) is an ancient underground waterway that is considered Istanbul’s most unusual tourist attraction. Although it was created in the 4th century, it was expanded in the 6th century to satisfy the needs of the Great Palace.
The 336 marble columns are 26 feet high. The cistern is 210 feet wide and 420 feet long. It is very dark and slightly eerie as you walk along the wooden walkways to the constant drip, drip, drip of the water coming from the Byzantine arches and domes atop of the columns. But it is also peaceful, cool, and somehow beautiful.
In a far corner is a shrine to the water nymphs which is marked by two columns resting on huge Medusa heads. One head is completely upside down and one faces sideways. The myth is that if you look at Medusa directly you would turn to stone, which may explain the positioning of the heads. In any case, they were very cool!
There are also a wish pool where you can throw a coin or two while making your wish and a “tear column” which has very cool tear-drop shaped carvings in it.
It’s a great place to escape the heat or the crowds of the city and is rather interesting. You can spend about 30-60 minutes here depending on the line to see the Medusa heads. There is also a small cafe at the end of the walkway towards the exit.
The cistern is in the Sultanahmet area and within walking distance of Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque, and Topkapi Palace. There are plenty of restaurants and cafes along the small park just outside of the cistern in case you need a tea break!
Do be careful as the walkways can be slippery.
Open 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Admission 10 TL
This is an amazing structure to visit. Made by Romans to hide their water, it is a great architectural undertaking. They are nearly empty and have a small amount of water and fish. So, you can see the large underground space that stored the vast amount of water. It has a very interesting history as well, and is probably a top 10 attraction in Istanbul.
The Basilica Cistern, known also as the Sunken Palace, is definitely a must-see attraction of Istanbul. Although it's not the only covered water reservoir in the city, it is undoubtedly the largest and most famous one. It is 140 metres long and 65 metres wide, i.e. it covers almost 1000 square metres. It has the capacity to store nearly 100 000 tons of water. These numbers may sound quite abstract until the moment you are inside the cistern and you realize how immense it is.
The ceiling is supported by 9-metre-high columns arranged in 12 rows. Each row consists of 28 columns varying in styles ( Corinthian, Doric and Ionic).
The cistern was built in the times of Emperor Justinian I in the 6th century to store water for the Great Palace in case of war or another calamity that would make it impossible to have the fresh water transported via the aqueducts. Forgotten for next centuries, the cistern was rediscovered in 1545 by a man called Peter Gyllins, who noticed that local people got water just by lowering buckets to the holes in the floors of their houses.
The Basilica Cistern was opened to the public in 1987. Visitors can easily stroll here using the walkways constructed over the water. Subdued lighting, soft music and cool temperature make the walk even more pleasurable. The tall columns reflect in the dark water, but people look down amazed rather by the enormous fish that appear in the deep.
In the far left-hand corner of the cistern we will find two fascinating column bases in the shape of Medusa heads. One of them is positioned upside down, the other one sideways. The most popular explanation says that it was done to ward off evil spirits.
If you are a fan of James Bond movies you may know that Basilica Cistern was one of Istanbul locations for filming of " From Russia with Love" starring Sean Connery. In the scene Bond uses a periscope installed in the cistern to spy on the Soviets.
Open daily from 09:00 to 17:30
Entrance fee TL 10.00
This is the biggest preserved underground cistern in Istanbul.
The cistern has been discovered at the end of the XIX century. It was built during Giustiniano's empire in 532, this has been the most prosperous period of Eastern Roman empire.
The name of this building comes from a big public square, under the square infact, before being transformed a cistern, there was big roman basilica, Cotantinopoli, though needed water because it was subjected to siege from the sea, so Giustiniano made the basilica become a cistern, 7000 slave did the job.
Water here arrived from an aqueduct that brought water from the Belgrade forest.
The visit to the cistern is just impresive as the columns, the statues are all extremely well manteined.
Ticket price is 10 TL.
Open from April to September 9-18.30 and from October to March 9-17.30
"Basilica Cistern", one of the most visited historical and touristic spot of Istanbul ...
Beneath Istanbul lie hundreds of gloomy Byzantine cisterns. They're left from the days when Istanbul was Constantinople.
The grandest of all is the Basilica Cistern (Yerebatan Sarnic), so called because it lay beneath the Stoa Basilica, a grand Byzantine public square. It's also called the Sunken Palace Cistern (Yerebatan Saray Sarniciı) because that's what it looks like.
Whatever you call it, it's impressive because of its size, measuring 138 meters long and 64.6 meters wide, covering nearly 1000 square meters (2.4 acres); its capacity (80,000 cubic meters, over 21 million US gallons) and its 336 marble columns.
Here on my "Travelogue" you can see more photos of this great architecture ... :
Massive restoration was required to make the Basilica Cistern as visitor-friendly as it is today.
In 1985, 50,000 tons of mud was removed from the site and walking platforms were constructed; in 1994, another revamp was carried out.
Now, visitors can stroll along the platforms and watch resident goldfish swim in the Cistern's cool waters. The Basilica Cistern also houses its own candlelit cafe where soft lighting and classical music contributes to the overall atmosphere of the place.
Here you can watch my "Video" for the "Basilica Cistern" ... :
A "must see" spot of Istanbul .... :)
As like the Fontana di Trevi in Roma, there is a "Wish Pool" at the Basilica Cistern in which visitors throw coins and make a wish ...
Here you can watch my "Video" of "Basilica Cistern" accordingly .... :
There are also many fish of several kinds swimming freely in the water of the Basilica Cistern, nice view for photography ... :)
There are several "Souvenir Shops" on the exit way of the Cistern, in which you can buy some tshirts, hats, postcards, magnets and all those kinds of souvenirs to take back home ...
Even there are batteries, memory cards etc are sold for your camera if you are in need of those ... :)
There are two columns of particular interest at the Basilica Cistern those bearing the head of "Medusa"
Medusa is a female monster from Greek mythology with hair made of snakes, which is said to have turned those who looked at her into stone. She was beheaded by the hero Perseus who then gave her head to Athena to use as a weapon on the top of her shield as a way of averting evil.
Medusa's upside down head is found on the base of one column. There are various theories surrounding why her head was placed upside down, but many believe that it was done to ward off evil spirits.
Next to the upside down head is another head depicting Medusa which has been placed sideways. Why the two heads were placed in different directions has only served to deepen the mystery, but some think that placing the heads in the same direction would give rise to evil forces.
As you make your walking tour at the "Basilica Cistern - Yerebatan Museum" and if you get tired, there is a small cafeteria inside which you can have some cold / hot drinks and have a rest ..
Also some snacks are available for your convenience ... :)
The one place my husband always talked about from our last visit to Istanbul was visiting the cisterns so we stopped by one afternoon late in the day. There was a fairly long line but it went quickly. Admission is 10TL and it was the one thing that we paid admission for that was not on the Museum Pass.
Beneath the city of Istanbul are several hundred ancient cisterns, and the Basilica Cistern – located very close to Hagia Sophia - is open for public, giving you the opportunity to visit the largest of them.
The Basilica Cistern was built in the 6th century, during the reign of Byzantine Emperor Justinian I, to provide water for the city of Istanbul. It got its name from an old basilica that once stood in its place. The Turkish name, Yerebatan Sarayý, can be translated as “Sunken Palace” - and the Basilica Cistern is an impressive place... A walking platform brings you through the cistern; 138 metres by 65 metres, capable of holding 80,000 cubic metres of water, 336 marble columns supporting the ceiling, and the lighting creating a very special atmosphere...
The underground water reservoir (cistern) was built by Byzantine Emperor I. Justinianus (527-565) and later on became known as “Yerebatan Sarayi” among public. As there was Basilica where Sarnic is, it is called ‘Basilica Cistern”. Length of it is 140 m, width is 70m and it is a giant rectangular structure. The ceiling gravity is distributed to columns through arches. The majority of the columns that were collected among older structures and sculptured in different marble types consist of one whole part and some of them consist of two parts. The capitals of the columns are of different characteristics: 98 of them reflect Corinthian style, while others are of Doric style. Walls of cistern, built with 4.80m thick bricks and bricked floor were made waterproof with Khorosan Mortar. This cistern lays on 9800 square meters field and has the capacity of 100 000 tones water storage. Two Medusa heads at the base of two columns are masterpieces of sculpture art in Roman Period. Basilica was restored twice in Ottoman Empire period and in 18th century in III Ahmet Sultan time (1723 AD ).In 19th century in Sulatan II Abdulhamid (1876-1909) time it underwent restoration again. 8 columns to the middle part were frozen with a big concrete layer and lost their characteristics as they were in danger of breaking down during a construction work that took place in 1955-1960. The cistern held a large area met water needs of palace and other residents living in this area in Byzantine period and it was in use for a period of time after Ottoman conquest of Istanbul in 1453 and the gardens of Topkapi palace were watered from this resource. Ottomans stopped using the reservoir after installing tap water system, considering cistern water as dead water. Gyllius discovered and introduced the cisterns to the western world way later, when he was looking for Byzantine remainders. Under the harsh circumstances Gyllius took a tour around the cistern on a boat ( I wish the boats were still available at the time of our tour) and determined where the columns were. He impressed many travelers after publishing his experience in his travel book. In a comprehensive renovation work that took place between 1985-1987 period 50000 ton of mud were taken away and walking platforms were placed in cistern, and open for visitors. It is obvious that there is no day light there, in undergrounds, but there is fish there swimming which is quite amazing. This tour will not take much time, 15-20 minutes is enough to look around.
Included on our coach tour was entry to the Cistern, a vast underground water storage. However due to the long lines of tourists waiting for entry our guide decided to move on and miss this magnificent underground cavern which dates back to the 6th century.
We were lucky as we had booked extra days post tour and returned to visit the Cistern the following day.
The magnificent columns have lasted the centuries and look impressive with the floodlights shining on them. Water remains in the cistern, but not to the extent of centuries before when it was full to the top.
There is a small cafe inside the cistern where you can sit and enjoy a coffee whilst enjoying the view, albiet that much of it is semi lit.
This is a historical site which should not be missed.
Basilica cistern is the one place, not so visible from outside, as all is underground. Cistern was built in 532 by Emperor Justinian. The water to this cistern was supplied by aqueduct by 20 kilometers from the North, a place near Black sea. Water was used for Constantinople functions. Inside there is about 336 columns with 12 rows as well as some columns with a head of medusas as a base.
Cistern was found accidentally, when someone told, that it is possible to catch a fish from a strange hole.
The place is mysterious and colder than outside. Watch your camera, as water sometimes drops down.
Entrance fee was 10 liras.
Very interesting underground cistern with beautiful lighting, and water with fish swimming there. Kids will love finding the fish. At the end, you will see two inverted medusa heads. It is very damp and dark, so once you finish , it is better to leave.