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.
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
"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
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.
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.
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! :)
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.
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).
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.....