Basilica Cistern - Yerebatan Saray, Istanbul
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.
The Roman fascination with water is manifest in Istanbul by up to 100 or more underground cisterns for water preservation. Like the Sultan and Column cisterns, huge columns support an arched roof with water covering the columns, hence the name applied to this largest and most famous of the cisterns. Unsuitable for bus tours and often excluded from private tours, the Yerebaten Cistern should be a must-see in Istanbul, especially since it is located right across from the Hagia Sophia and adjacent the Hippodrome.
Following the Nika Revolt (532), Emperor Justinian commissioned among other projects the creation of a great cistern under the Basilica, a commercial square, so originally known as the Basilica Cistern. With an area of almost 105000 sq ft, the cistern holds up to 2,800000 gallons. The arched roof is supported by 336 30 ft high columns. Most of these were taken from older buildings as some are doric and others Corinthian in style, made of different types of marble. Some are clearly comprised of segments from two different columns. The brick walls and floors are 5 feet thick, waterproofed with plaster.
Under the Ottomans, who preferred running to still water, the cistern fell into disrepair. Stories of people dropping buckets through their house floor and coming up with water and the occasional fish persisted through the centuries and an occasional European visitor descended into the cistern, but the first directed exploration would wait until a German expedition in the 1900's. Restorations began in 1985 and the cistern opened to tourists several years later.
Today one walks above the water on elevated wooden walkways between the columns allowing one to peer down into the water where innumerable fish often described as overgrown goldfish live a life of luxury ( at least until they are "replaced" every four years ). Looking up to the ceiling and the arches with moving light reflected from the water is eerie.
There are two featured columns. One is the Column of Tears, said to be engraved with tear drop like surface allegedly to recall deaths among the 7000 slaves who built the cistern. The second feature are two columns at the far end of the cistern containing blocks with the head of Medusa - one face on its side and the other upside down. Overenthusiastic romantics have suggested that these positions are meant to symbolize the triumph of Christianity over heathen beliefs. Maybe these fragments just fit better this way into the columns.
The Yerebatan Cistern is a remarkable attraction and should not be missed.
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
Located in the back of the Yerebatan Sarnici, these Medusa heads are placed beneath 2 separate columns that support the underground structure. Reasons why the heads were placed here are uncertain, but they are thought to have come from another Roman structure, possibly a Byzantine palace. The heads are oddly placed beneath the columns, one upside down, and the other on it's side. This also is a bit of a mystery, but it could be attributed to old Roman mythology regarding Medusa and her ability to turn a man into stone upon looking at her. The heads placed in this manner could have provided protection from her evil glare! :)
The cistern's roof is held up by 336 columns, each over 26 feet high. Two columns rest on Medusa head bases in a corner of the cistern. The heads were plundered by the Byzantines from earlier monuments are are thought to mark a nymphaeum (a shrine to the water nymphs).
If you have just visited the Agia Sofia, your next destination should be the Yerebatan Cistern. This located virtually across the street. It is a vast underground water storage tank originally built by Constantine the Great. It was enlarged by Justinian in the 6th century. The cistern was largely neglected after the fall of the Byzantine Empire in 1453. Yerebatan Cistern was basically became a muddy subterranean ruin until it was cleaned up and opened up in 1987. What you see today is a huge tank containing 336 columns and about 12 inches of water on the floor. Wooden planks have been laid down so you can walk amongst the columns some of which are quite decorative. On of the most famous sights within the cistern is the pedestal with the two Medusa heads carved into it. One head is on its side, the other inverted. There are also suppose to be goldfish swimming about the water but, alas I did not see any. During my visit, there was an art exhibit on display featuring images a lit on the bare walls of the cistern. This was actually pretty interesting and I do not know if the exhibit is pernament or temperory.
The Yerebatan Cistern is open from 9am to 5pm everyday but Tuesday when it is closed. It cost 10,000,000 lira to enter at the time of my visit. That is about $7.00US.
everytime i'm in im istanbul i'm visiting Yerebetan Cistern, it's something magic and completely standing apart, and not only children are fascinated by it's darkness, echoes and drops falling from ceiling...please pay attention to 2 Medusa heard supporting columns
What a delightful place: quiet and peaceful, sometimes appreciated in a hectic city. For 10.000.000 turkish liras you can descend into the interior of the Byzantine Basilica Cistern.
This vast vault was built to satisfy the growing demands of the Great Palace. At the begining of the Ottoman period no one knew of it's existance.
Walk through the passages, admire the dim lights play hide and seek behind the more than 300 columns... stop and listen carefully as water dripping from the ceiling echos and dissappears.....
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.
In the left corner, in the far end, of Basilica Cistern are two columns standing on a Medusa head each. One of the Medusa heads are upside down and the other is lying on its side. Because they are like this they are probably not for decoration but only old stones that have been reused.
Medusa, who according to the Greek mythology could petrify with her looks, is now “in stone”.
The cistern is a large underground reservoir located about a block away from Hagia Sophia in the Sultanahmet section of Istanbul. Orignallly built during the reign of Emperor Justinia in the 6th century, the cistern can hold up to 80,000 cubic meters of water. It supplied water to the imperial palaces of the Byzantine and Ottoman empires for over 100 years.
In addition to being practical, the cistern is also architecturally attractive, with a ceiling held up by over 300 volumns. It is open to tourists and you can walk through it on a raised walkway that runs through its center. In the summer, it makes for a nice cool break from Istanbul's heat and humidity.
The Basilica Cistern is the largest of several hundred ancient cisterns that lie beneath the city Constantinople. The cistern, located South West of the Hagia Sophia was built in the 6th century during the reign of Byzantine Emperor Justinian I.
You can watch my 2 min 23 sec HQ Video Istanbul Yerebatan Sarayi out of my Youtube channel with Turkish pop music by Rayhan – Karacaseudik – Incar Ediyorum.
The great Byzantine cistern, located across from Hagia Sophia, was used to supply the necessary water to the city during the babarian attacks and when the city was under siege. 336 columns, with Doric and Corinthian capitals, were brought from various locations in Asia Minor for the construcction of the cistern. A monumental aqueduct, built by emperor Valens and still a major attraction of the city, porvided water to the cistern.
Locals have differents price, much cheaper than the toursit...can be like trap :(
Is amazing place to visit specially when face Medusa...after so many years hear about this place specially old time school.
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...