The Basilica Cistern is the largest & most famous underground Byzantine cistern in Istanbul. It is also known by it's Turkish names Yerebatan Sarnici, or Yerebatan Sarayi, which means "sunken palace". It was constructed in the mid-500's A.D. during the reign of Justinian I in order to supply water to palaces located nearby. The water was brought in from far away water sources via aquaduct, and then stored in cisterns such as this one. After the fall of Constantinople in 1453, the cistern fell largely unused for centuries. During the 1980's a huge restoration project was conducted on the cistern, as well as walkways and lighting being added to allow tourists to visit. The 300+ marble columns, along with the added dim, upwardly fixed lighting, the almost eerie music being played overhead, and the hundreds of fish swimming in the water all provide a great experience. There's even a cafe down here if you care for a bite to eat or a drink.
Istanbul is often described as mystical, but when you go down the steps into the cool, dark Palace Cistern (also Byzantine Cistern, Basilica Cistern or Yerebetan Sarayi), it doesn’t get more mystical and magical than that.
This underground reservoir was built by the Emperor Justinian in the 6th century to store water brought via aqueduct from 19 kilometers away. The arched roof is supported by marble columns, 336 in all (I didn’t count; I read the sign outside…). These columns are lit up to create a wonderful play of light and shadow. You walk through on a wooden walkway to the sounds of soft classical music and dripping water. If you look closely, there are goldfish darting around in the water.
One column with a greenish tint and a swirly circle pattern has a thumb-size hole in the side. Stick your finger in, swivel your hand around and make your wish. I saw a similar column on a traffic island on the main boulevard of Sultanahmet. So if the line is too long in the cistern, I bet that one works just as well.
Justinian’s builders didn’t actually carve all these Ionic, Doric and Corinthian columns: This was a case of ancient recycling: They reused materials from old buildings. From the giant carved Medusa heads in one corner of the cavernous structure, one upside down and the other on its side, it seems clear these builders never attended any courses in art appreciation.
In Greek mythology, Medusa was a gorgeous gal with a great head of hair, but Athena, queen of the gods, was jealous. She turned her into a monster with serpents growing out of her head, and anyone who looked at her turned into stone. Ever since my trip to Istanbul, I think of poor Medusa when I have a bad hair day (which is often).
The Turks are an enterprising bunch. After removing centuries of mud from the cistern and reopening it in 1987, they didn’t forget to build a café on a wooden deck in the corner. Sometimes there are concerts here. Overhead hangs a large piece of plastic sheeting, insuring that diners and musicians stay dry.
Yerebatan Sarnici is a huge underground cistern built in 532. It is 140 metres long and 70 metres wide and the roof is supported by over 300 columns.
It is a quite nice atmospher in the cistern with classical music playing in the background, waterdropps dripping from the roof and rows of columns.
The columns are reused from ruined buildings. Medusa heads are supporting two of the columns. One of them is uppside down the other is lying on the side. For what reason it is like that is not known, but medusaheads were often incorporated in buildings of homes at a time for protection/luck.
The entrance fee is 10 000 000 TL.
While the Hippodrome and Hagia Sophia were testaments to the wealth of the Byzantine Empire, practical things such as a sewer system and a fresh water supply were necessary in maintaining what had been the largest city in the world. The demand for hot water was accommodated by hundreds of underground cisterns. Two of these are open to visitors. The more impressive is the Basilica Cistern, a minute walk west of Hagia Sophia. The cavernous “hot water tank” was built by Constantine and supported by massive columns. Visitors will notice the strange placement of Medusa heads at the base of two of the cistern’s marble columns. It is not uncommon for visitors to test their singing voices here, as the natural acoustics of the room make it ideal for concerts and performances. The other cistern open to the public is in the basement of Nakkas, a carpet and souvenir store one block southeast of the Hippodrome.
The Underground Cistern is one of the most extraordinary and impressive buildings in Istanbul. It is open every day from 9 am to 5 pm.
The structure was known in Byzantium as "Basilica Cistern" because it lay beneath the Stoa Basilica, the great public square on the First Hill. The Basilica Cistern was built by Justinian I after the bloody Nika Revolt in 532, probably as an enlargement of an earlier cistern which was constructed by Constantine the Great. During the Byzantium Period, it was used as a reservoir for water storage for the Great Palace and other buildings in the First Hill. During the Ottoman Period, the water was used for Topkapi Palace and watering the gardens of it. However the cistern had its brighest days during the Byzantium Period.
The interior of Underground Cistern is breathtaking. It is 138 m, 452 ft long by 65m, 213 ft wide. There are 336 columns in the cistern. Most of the column capitals are either in Corinthian or Doric Style. At the far end of the Cistern, there are two heads of Medusa which are put upside down or side ways. The Medusa Heads are taken from an ancient Pagan site but they complement the pillars very beautifully and add a different taste to the building.
Because of its magic atmosphere and great acoustics, this cistern is now hosting many Classical Music Concerts. There is also a little café which one can sip his or her coffee and enjoy this unique building. On the way to the exit, there are two small bookshops which is full of postcards and informative books as well as some silver jewelry and many others
First of all Basilica Cistern is not a basilica at all. It's a huge, underground, water storage tank build during the reign of emperor Justinianus in 6th century by the work of 7000 slaves. At that time the big number of raids and besieges caused several times a destruction of the aqueducts and the canals outside the city. That's why the emperors decided to establish a number of cisterns. Even most of the churches basements were carefully sealed and plastered with water resistant mortar and transformed into underground tanks. In 7th Century all the cisterns in the Byzantium Istanbul had a total water storage capacity of 1.000.000 m3!
The water of the Basilica Cistern came from a point called Egrikapy in Belgrade Woods, 19 km. north from the city centre, by a system of aqueducts, which can still be seen in Edirnekapi district.
The cistern is a vast building of 140 m. long and 70 m. wide. In this cistern, which can be reached after walking down 52 steps on stone stairs, there are 336 columns each 9 m. high spaced at a distance of 4.8 m. apart. There are 12 lines of columns each line comprising of 28 columns. These columns are considered to have been collected from ancient buildings. They are made of various types of marble and granite stones and they are mostly of one piece each, although some of them are of two pieces placed on top of each other. The heads of 98 columns are in Corint style while as the rest is in the Ionic and Doric style.
The cistern's 4.80 m. wide brick covered wall and its brickcovered base have been made waterproof by being plastered with a special mortar. The cistern with its area of 9800 m2. has a water capacity of 100.000 tonnes.
Inside the cistern aou will find a small bar, and during the high season the place hosts various cultural events - concerts, dance performance.
Anyway, don't forget that inside the cistern the the temperature is much lower then outside. And - during the summer - it's not unpleasant! :)
first i thinked that i will not visit it cause i didn,t read about it but my friend Rami
think to inter so we inter it and pay 10ytl=8$ per one , then i surprise so much in the
scence i saw inside it ,it,s underground cistern with 336 marbile columns and between them rows
and the cistern wall thickness is 4 meter ,and the ground is full of water with little light
it give you beautfull scence . so don,t miss it never
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.
One of İstanbul's historical art product is the Basilica Cistern which is situated at a short distance further southwest of Ayasofya. This underground cistern, which was named idiomatically by the local people as "Yerebatan Palace" because of the columns that arise from its water and create an image of a place, was constructed by Emperor Justinianus The First (527-567 A.D). It is thought that in the late years of the Roman Empire, around the 3rd and 4th Century, at the place where the cistern is found today, there existed a great Basilica which was used for trade, legal, scientific and artistic activities. . According to their findings the cistern is a vast building of 140 m. long and 70 m. wide. In this cistern, which can be reached after walking down 52 steps on stone stairs, there are 336 columns each 9 m. high spaced at a distance of 4.8 m. apart. There are 12 lines of columns each line comprising of 28 columns. The columns erected in the water in this way resemble a vast forest and for that reason they happen to be the centre of attraction to the visitors as soon as they enter the cistern. The weight of the entire cistern's ceiling is adequately distributed to the columns through round arches. These columns are considered to have been collected from ancient buildings. They Are made of various types of marble and granite stones and they are mostly of one piece each although some of them are of two pieces placed on top of each other. The heads of these columns have different specialities 98 of them depict the Corint style while as the rest depict the Dor style.
The cisterns which were used to supply water to the Byzantium palaces and the surrounding buildings were used for watering the sultan's palace gardens for a short time during the Ottomans after their conquest of Istanbul in 1453 A.D. The Ottomans who preferred flowing water to stagnant one constructed their own water system in the city and the water from the cistern was no longer used.
open 7 days in a week between 9a.m.-5p.m.
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.
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
The cistern was built by Justinian in the 6th century A.D. and was used as a water supply for his palace complex which was located in the areas where Sultanahmet Park, Blue Mosque, and surroundings used to be. Water was transported from the Black Sea via aqueducts and stored here with a capacity of 80,000 cubic meters. The series and arrangement of supporting columns in this underground facility is an example of Byzantine engineering at its finest. Many of the columns were taken from old buildings and have ornamentation including the two Medusa head-base columns in teh back of the cistern complex.
Interestingly the complex was largely forgotten until sometime after the Muslim Conquest after it was learned that residents in the area were able to obtain water by lowering buckets through holes in their basements.
Visitors walk along a series of raised wooden platforms through the somewhat tastefully lit columns. Fish can be seen swimming in the shallow waters. It is nice and cool in this subterranean facility and there is also a small cafe if you want to delay going back out into the summer heat. Walking through the complex will only take the casual visitor about 30 minutes but is definitely worth a visit.
Of the 300+ columns within the Yerebatan Sarnici, the Tear Column definately stands out among them with it's unique design. The column, which is located near the center of the cistern, has inverted flowing tear designs on it, similar to the markings on a peacock. Although no definative information is known about it, it is thought that the column came from another location, possibly a Byzantine palace, to replace a previously damaged column.
Built during the rule of the Byzantine Empire under Emperor Justinian in the 6th Century AD, the Bascilica Cistern was created mainly to satisfy the growing demands of the Great Palace situated on the opposite side of the Hippodrome.
For a century after their conquest of the city in 1453, the Ottomans remained oblivious to the existence of the cistern and rediscovered it only after local residents were seen collecting water and even fish by lowering buckets through holes in their basements. Even today there are fish swimming around in the shallow water.
"SUNKEN PALACE".......Is an entirely different tourist attraction.
It is called this by the locals because of the great number of Marble Columns arising out of the water.
You descend 52 stone steps, don't go to the bottom straight away, as 3/4 way down is a great spot for a photo. A mysterious, looking basement awaits you. The lighting makes it look this way. The water is so still that the reflections are lovely. In one spot, there are HUGE FISH waiting to be fed!
The Cistern was expanded in 532, so that it could hold 18 million gallons of water and hopefully Istanbul would not run out of water. The Cistern roof is supported by 336 pillars!
There are also upside down Medesa heads(so people looking at them did not become stones!) here that came from other Greek buildings.
Eerie? Different.....yes,........worth a look at ....Yes
HUNGRY.....There is a Cafe down there
ADMISSION IN 2009 was 7 euros or 10 t/l...you can pay in either.
OPEN 9 - 4pm Daily CLOSED MONDAYS.
Takes about an hour to have a look around.
LOCATION......Near the Hagia Sophia