Basilica Cistern

Make your way underground to visit this fascinating ancient cistern near the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul.

Originally built by Emperor Constantine and later enlarged by Byzantine Emperor Justinian in the 6th century, the cistern is said to have the capacity to hold 80,000 cubic meters of water.

The huge cistern would have been used to supply water for the Great Palace of Constantinople and later the Topkapı Palace. The water traveled 19 kilometers via aqueduct from the Belgrade Forest into the city.

Basilica Cistern | Yerebatan Sarnıcı | Istanbul | Best Museums in the World

Now the cistern only contains a few feet of water but you can walk among the columns in this eerie place and experience the space while marveling at the construction.

The ceiling is supported by 336 marble columns many of which were recycled from other structures all across the empire. There are Ionic and Corinthian style columns and a few Doric styles. There are also two columns supported by huge Medusa heads which have many myths and legends surrounding them. One of the Medusa heads is upside down and the other is sideways. Theories about the placement abound with some saying they were placed sideways or upside down to prevent the curse of Medusa’s gaze. Other say the heads were simply placed in the best position to support the columns above. In any case, they are wonderful to admire.

Basilica Cistern | Yerebatan Sarnıcı | Istanbul | Best Museums in the World

Another interesting column appears to be covered in a peacock feather pattern and is called the Crying Column or Column of Tears.

Basilica Cistern | Yerebatan Sarnıcı | Istanbul | Best Museums in the World

The Basilica Cistern has been featured in several books and films. Most recently at the end of Dan Brown’s Inferno with Tom Hanks, as well as the 1963 James Bond film From Russia with Love.

Look for the unassuming entrance to the Yerebatan Sarnıcı to the southwest of Hagia Sophia. The cistern is open daily from 9AM- 1730. The Basilica Cistern ticket cost is currently 20 Lira.

Purchase tickets online here to visit the Basilica Cistern, Hagia Sophia and the Grand Bazaar with a guide.

Yerebatan Sarnıcı
Alemdar Mahallesi, Yerebatan Caddesi, No:1/3Istanbul 34410, Turkey

Other sights in Istanbul you shouldn’t miss:

  • Blue Mosque
  • Topkapı Palace
  • Hagia Sophia

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Basilica Cistern | Yerebatan Sarnıcı | Istanbul | Best Museums in the World