If you are looking for a hidden gem in Istanbul, Turkey, look no further than the Basilica Cistern (Subterranean Cistern). Located in the heart of the city’s historic district, this ancient underground water reservoir is a must-see attraction for anyone interested in history and architecture.
In this article, we will explore the history and significance of the Basilica Cistern, as well as provide practical information for visiting this stunning attraction.
History of the Basilica Cistern
The Basilica Cistern was built in the 6th century during the reign of Byzantine Emperor Justinian I. Its purpose was to provide water for the Great Palace of Constantinople and other buildings in the area. The cistern was built using columns and other building materials taken from abandoned structures and pagan temples.
The cistern covers an area of approximately 9,800 square meters and can hold up to 100,000 tons of water. It was constructed using over 300 columns, each of which is approximately 9 meters tall. The columns are made of marble and are arranged in 12 rows of 28 columns each.
Over the centuries, the Basilica Cistern has played an important role in the history of Istanbul. During the Ottoman Empire, it was used as a water storage facility and was later used as a dumping ground for various waste materials. In the mid-20th century, the cistern was restored and opened to the public as a tourist attraction.
Architecture and Design of the Basilica Cistern
The design of the Basilica Cistern is a testament to the ingenuity and engineering skills of the ancient Byzantine architects who built it. The cistern is supported by 336 columns, each of which is unique in design and decoration.
|Location||Yerebatan Cad. 13, Sultanahmet, Istanbul, Turkey|
|Construction||6th century AD|
|Capacity||80,000 cubic meters of water|
|Size||Approximately 9,800 square meters|
|Number of Columns||336|
|Famous Columns||2 Medusa heads|
|Use||Originally used to store water for the Byzantine Palace and other buildings|
|Renovations||Renovated and repaired several times during the Ottoman Empire|
|Rediscovery||Rediscovered in the 16th century by a Dutch traveler named P. Gyllius|
|Popularity||One of Istanbul’s most popular tourist attractions|
|Accessibility||Accessible via stairs, with no elevator or ramp|
|Hours||Open daily from 9am to 6:30pm|
|Entrance Fee||40 Turkish lira for adults, 20 Turkish lira for students|
|Photography||Allowed without flash or tripods|
One of the most striking features of the cistern is the two Medusa heads located at the base of two of the columns. The origins of these heads are shrouded in mystery, but it is believed that they were brought from a pagan temple and used as decorative elements in the cistern.
The cistern is also notable for its vaulted ceilings, which are supported by a series of arches. The ceilings are made of brick and are covered in waterproof mortar, which has helped to preserve the structure over the centuries.
Visiting the Basilica Cistern
The Basilica Cistern is open to the public every day of the week from 9:00 am to 6:30 pm. Tickets can be purchased at the entrance to the cistern or online in advance.
Visitors to the cistern are advised to wear comfortable shoes, as the ground can be slippery in places. The cistern is also dimly lit, so it is a good idea to bring a flashlight if you want to see the details of the columns and other features up close.
One of the most popular features of the cistern is the ability to take a boat ride through the columns. The boats are operated by local guides and offer a unique perspective on the architecture and design of the cistern. If you’re planning the visit this place, here is a step-by-step guide for visiting the Basilica Cistern:
- Plan your visit: Before heading to the Basilica Cistern, it’s important to plan your visit. Check the opening hours, entrance fees, and any restrictions that may be in place.
- Dress appropriately: The cistern is underground and can be quite cool, so it’s a good idea to wear comfortable and warm clothing. Avoid wearing high heels or open-toed shoes, as the ground can be slippery.
- Arrive early: The Basilica Cistern can get very crowded, especially during peak hours. Arriving early in the morning or later in the afternoon can help you avoid the crowds and enjoy a more peaceful visit.
- Purchase your tickets: Tickets can be purchased at the entrance to the cistern or online in advance. If you purchase your tickets online, you can skip the ticket line and go straight to the entrance.
- Explore the cistern: Take your time exploring the cistern, and be sure to admire the stunning architecture and unique columns. Don’t forget to look for the two Medusa heads, which are located at the base of two columns.
- Take photos: Photography is allowed in the cistern, but be mindful of other visitors and avoid using flash or tripods. Selfie sticks are also not allowed.
- Visit nearby attractions: The Basilica Cistern is located in the historic district of Istanbul, which is home to many other popular attractions, including the Hagia Sophia, Topkapi Palace, and the Blue Mosque. Consider visiting some of these nearby attractions after your visit to the cistern.
Interesting Facts About the Basilica Cistern
The Basilica Cistern is an impressive underground structure that has been attracting visitors to Istanbul for centuries. While its architectural and engineering feats are certainly impressive, there are also many interesting facts and stories associated with the cistern that make it a must-visit attraction for anyone traveling to Istanbul. Here are some of the most fascinating facts about the Basilica Cistern.
- The Basilica Cistern covers an area of approximately 9,800 square meters and has a capacity of 80,000 cubic meters of water.
- The cistern remained in use during the Ottoman Empire and was renovated and repaired several times over the centuries.
- The cistern was largely forgotten by the public until it was rediscovered in the 16th century by a Dutch traveler named P. Gyllius.
- The cistern has been used as a location for several films, including the James Bond movie From Russia with Love and the Dan Brown novel and film adaptation Inferno.
- In recent years, the cistern has become a popular spot for concerts and other cultural events.
The Basilica Cistern is a fascinating and impressive feat of ancient engineering and architecture that should not be missed during a visit to Istanbul. With its stunning columns, vaulted ceilings, and mysterious Medusa heads, the cistern provides visitors with a unique glimpse into the history and culture of the Byzantine Empire.
Whether you are interested in history, architecture, or just looking for a unique and memorable experience, the Basilica Cistern is definitely worth a visit. So be sure to add it to your list of must-see attractions during your next trip to Istanbul!
Yes, the Basilica Cistern is wheelchair accessible. However, some parts of the cistern may be difficult to navigate due to uneven terrain and low lighting.
Photography is allowed in the cistern, but the use of tripods and flash photography is prohibited. Selfie sticks are also not allowed.
The average visit to the Basilica Cistern takes between 30 minutes to an hour, depending on how much time you spend exploring the cistern and taking photographs.
Yes, the Basilica Cistern is located in the historic district of Istanbul, which is home to many other popular attractions, including the Hagia Sophia, Topkapi Palace, and the Blue Mosque.
The Basilica Cistern can be crowded at peak times, so it is recommended to visit early in the morning or later in the afternoon to avoid the crowds.