Basilica Cistern - Yerebatan Saray, Istanbul
10 Lira gets you into a rather impressive underground world with 2 Medusa heads, no less!
It was originally used to store water (80,000 cubic metres!) and then... it was simply forgotten about although locals continued to enjoy the water that they could get by lowering buckets down through their floors... some people were even catching fish (of which there are many - from the small to the rather large and fat!) In 1545 Petrus Gyllius rediscovered it but the Ottoman's sadly used it as a dump - for rubbish and the dead!
It is beautiful - with columns... row by row...
The lighting is kept quite dark so I whipped out my little tripod and put my camera on a slow setting... I soon got told off - apparently it is forbidden to use a tripod in here!
As you enter the cistern you will find a gloriously tacky tourist opportunity to dress up as a sultan and be photographed. Usuaully shying away from such things I leaped in with both feet (it was my sons birthday so...) and I can conclude that the result was 4 incredibly hot and sweaty people sat awkwardly on a couch, having a camera and flash rammed right into our faces - it is a horrible photo but... it only cost a couple of lira and, well, I will never look at it again!!!!
The Basilica Cistern is one of the most impressive constructions in Istanbul that lies beneath the Hipodrome!
Although we have read about it we were surprised when we went downstairs and although there are no boats to carry you around (like when it first opened to the public) it’s still a great site to see. We loved the softly litted canals. There is music playing at the background (!) and if you have kids with you you may want to try find the biggest fish in the water.
The cistern that could hold 80,000 cubic meters of water was founded by emperor Justinian I. It was formerly a Basilica, probably built in the 3rd century, during the late roman period. The water sources were mainly in the forests of Belgrade (that were supplying other cisterns in the city too) and it was used to fed Constantinople’s Great Palace and much later Topkapi palace.
It covers an area of about 2 acres, there are 336 marble columns (9m high, many Ionic and Corinthians and some Doric ones) that support the huge water storage tank, most of them obviously taken from other constructions like temples etc. Don’t miss the weird medusa heads, probably the bases of columns, although its funny one of them is upside down and the other sideways (pic 2)
It is open daily 9.00-17.30 and the entrance fee is 10TL (there’s also an audio guide but we didn’t use it)
We saw people at the café but we preferred some fresh air outside.
The massive Basilica Cistern stretches 453 feet by 212 feet, covering over 2 acres and able to hold as much as 2,800,000 cubic feet of water. The underground water storage tank is supported by 336 marble columns, most of which were likely previously used in other construction projects.
The cistern's water supply was carried via canals and aqueducts, including the existing Valens Aqueduct in Istanbul, from the Belgrade forest to the cistern. The water from the cistern fed the
former Great Palace of Constantinople as well as Topkapi Palace in more modern times.
When the cistern was first open to modern tourists, boats carried visitors around the columns. Since 1987 people have been able to explore on the raised walkway that runs all the way to the back wall of the cistern.
The most visited feature of the cistern are the two Medusa's heads that form the bases of two columns. One head is upside down and the other is on its side.
Entry is 10 Turkish Lira for adults. Once inside you can get a headset for an audio tour for another 5 Lira.
During the Byzantine era there were not enough sources of water inside the city walls. Water from sources in the forests of Belgrade was directed into some sixty cisterns built in Istanbul. The Yerebatan Cistern is the biggest of these, holding about 80 megalitres of water which was delivered through the Valens Aquaduct.
It was used until the 16th century and restored in the mid 19th century. The restoration work was completed in 1987 and the cistern was opened to the public. At the back of the cistern there are two Medusa heads used as bases to columns. One is upside down, the other sideways.
Scenes from the James Bond movie 'From Russia with Love' were filmed here.
This cistern was built in AD 532 and stored 17,596,800 gallons of drinking water for the city. It's a very cool place to visit (literally as well as figuratively) and doesn't take too much time to see. There are 336 columns which make it an interesting sight, as they all come out of the water to hold up the very high ceiling. Spotlights along some columns provide an erie atmosphere as you walk along the stone pathways down the middle.
The Yerbetan (or Basilica) Cistern is a fantastic adventure into the depths of the earth just below your feet while you are in Istanbul. The entrance to this fantastic construction is a small unpretentious building with a small red sign. After paying your entrance fee, you walk down a flight of steps and enter a different world. Water for the ancient city of Istanbul was moved here by an aqueduct, and the sheer SIZE of this Cistern is amazing, 100,000 cubic meters of water. But what is even more fantastic is the columns jutting from the water and the fish swimming among them. They have done an excellent job with projected and subdued lighting that highlights them very well.
There are also two "Medusa Heads" at the bottom of two columns to be found here.
When flicking through any Lonley Planet, I always find the best section is "Things to do when travelling with children". The Basilica Cistern was featured in this chapter of the Istanbul guide and did not disappoint.
The eerie reservoir apparently lay forgotten for many years until locals reported hauling fresh drinking water from holes in the floors of their houses. An investigation was launched and the Cistern rediscovered.
The best things to do in the Basilica Cistern are:
1) See who can spot the biggest fish - there are loads of bloated carp swimming in the artificially glowing water
2) Scare each other telling ghost stories in the dark - perfect in the atmospheric lighting and to the soft background opera music, but only if you manage to miss the big tour groups.
3) Speculate about the origins of the medusa heads and the reason they are inverted - since the Cistern lay forgotten nobody knows for sure how they got there - spooky!
4) Make a wish - in the Cistern's very own version of the Hagia Sofia's Weeping Column
5) Pretend you're James Bond - part of From Russia With Love was filmed here
6) Have a nice glass of Cay - in the strangest cafe in Istanbul!
And another good thing is that you can spend as little or as much time as you like here – so if you only have half an hour, it’s still worth a visit.
This place was a real good way of keeping cool in the sometimes hot and stuffy weather of Istanbul.
The cool underground waterway is the largest of several hundred ancient cisterns that lie beneath the city of Istanbul.
It was built in the 6th century during the reign of Byzantine Emperor Justinian I.
Whilst walking along the walkways you should come across the bases of two columns blocks carved with the face of Medusa. Tradition has it that the blocks are oriented sideways and inverted in order to negate the power of the Gorgons' gaze.
The design of this place is very impressive. It's unimaginable what could lie beneath the surface by the Hippodrome!
You buy a ticket & descend the stairway, to the sight of the softly lit 'canals'.
There are some huge fish in there too, happily swimming around!
Walk down the length to admire the columns, many with different carvings on them, till the see the two Medusas at the base of two columns. There is a board explaining the possible motive behind their presence & positioning. One head is upside down, the other sideways! It's fun reading why this could be so!
There's a cafe on your right as you descend, and as you exit, there are two souvenir shops.
This is a water cistern that supplied water to the Bysantine grand palace.
The Cistern was discovered when a french specialiest for the era observed a family living over the cistern open a trap in the floor, lower a bucket and pull up some fish.
The cistern was then re opened and explored.
There are 2 carvings of Medusa's head there.
Concerts are occaisionally held there.
The place is huge.
This cistern is very close to Sultanahmet square and it has a different ambiance worth visiting. It is an underground chamber approximately 143 metres by 65 metres - about 9,800 square metres in area - capable of holding 80,000 cubic metres of water. The ceiling is supported by 336 marble columns, each 9 metres high, arranged in 12 rows of 28 columns spaced 4.9 metres apart. The medusa sculpture is the main attraction inside. The channels filled with water also host many carp fish which swim around. Many music videos used this unique place as the set. There is not so much time required to make the tour inside so you can squeeze this visit in between Blue Mosque, Hagia Sofia and Topkapi Palace tour.
Located in the northwest corner of the cistern, the bases of two columns reuse blocks carved with the visage of Medusa. The origin of the two heads is unknown, though it is thought that the heads were brought to the cistern after being removed from a building of the late Roman period. Tradition has it that the blocks are oriented sideways and inverted in order to negate the power of the Gorgons' gaze.
Open: 9am-5.30pm. Admission: TL10.
One of the magnificent historical constructions of Istanbul is the Basilica Cistern, located to the south-west of the Hagia Sophia. This huge cistern, which was founded by Justinianus I, a Byzantine Empire (527-565), began to be called by the public "the Sinking Palace" and not without reason, seeing the great number of marble columns arising out of the water. In place of the cistern was formerly a great Basilica, which had probably been built in the 3rd or 4th century during the Roman period which was used in commercial and legal affairs and scientific and artistic activities. The basilica was reconstructed by Ilius after it had burned down in a conflagration that broke out in 476.
This cathedral-sized cistern is an underground chamber approximately 143 metres (470 ft) by 65 metres (210 ft) - about 9,800 square metres (105,000 sq ft) in area - capable of holding 80,000 cubic metres (2,800,000 cu ft) of water. The ceiling is supported by a forest of 336 marble columns, each 9 metres (30 ft) high, arranged in 12 rows of 28 columns spaced 4.9 metres (16 ft) apart. The capitals of the columns are mainly Ionic and Corinthian styles, with the exception of a few Doric styles with no engravings.
The cistern is surrounded by a firebrick wall with a thickness of 4 metres (13 ft) and coated with a waterproofing mortar. The cistern's water was provided from the Belgrade Woods which lie 19km (12 miles) north of the city via aqueducts such as the 971m long Valens Aqueduct, which was built by the Emperor Valens in 368 AD and the 115m long Maglova Aqueduct, which was built by the Emperor Justinianus.
The cistern features two column bases that are carved with the visage of Medusa (see next tip). An interesting fact is that the cistern was used as a location for the 1963 James Bond film From Russia with Love.
Open: 9am-5.30pm. Admission: TL10.
This 6th century cistern was originally built under the reign of the Byzantine emperor Justinian, to provice water for the city. But after the Ottoman conquest in 1453, it was covered over and forgotten.
In 1545, the Turks rediscovered it, and used it to provide water for Topkapi Palace, nearby. Today, it's one of Turkey's most unusual attractions, with rows of ancient columns, soft lights shimmering on the surface of the water, and classical music in the background. It has a small cafe where one can soak up the unique ambiance of this place. Look closely, and you can see parts of earlier temples and palaces which were re-used to construct the columns.
This is the old water supply to the palace, located underground opposite Aya Sofya...complete with fish.
It's cool, so cool, so in summer it's worth the entry fee for that alone!
But seriously, it is interesting how sophisticated the Byzantine plumbing can be...