Basilica Cistern | Discovering Istanbul's Sublime Treasure

Deep beneath Istanbul's bustling streets, the Basilica Cistern awaits your exploration. Known also as the Yerebatan Cistern or the Sunken Palace, this grand structure was skillfully built under a basilica during the era of Justinian I. As the largest underground cistern from the Byzantine Constantinople era, it paints a vivid image of the massive architectural projects that once graced the region. The Basilica Cistern stands out for its utility as well as for the insights it offers into the magnificence of ancient Constantinople's construction endeavours. This architectural marvel not only served practical needs but also showcased the artistry and vision of its creators.

Venturing into the Basilica Cistern Museum, you'll be greeted by 336 towering columns, each about 9 meters in height, elegantly arranged to support its expansive roof. Among these columns, a captivating sight awaits – the Basilica Cistern Medusa. Two columns, adorned with Gorgon heads, silently narrate tales of reused materials from earlier eras. Attractions like these also add to the cistern's mystique. During your Basilica Cistern visit, you will be able to navigate this ancient wonder and appreciate its rich history and architecture. You will also be able to witness its artistic embellishments, like the "peacock-eyed" column, which explains why the Medusa in Istanbul's Basilica Cistern remains one of the city's must-see attractions.

Basilica Cistern Skip The Line Guided Tour


  • Book your Basilica Cistern Tickets without the wait, diving straight into Istanbul's gem.  
  • An unparalleled experience awaits with the cistern's pristine waters reflecting its vaulted ceiling, akin to an inverted world.
  • The rich history from the Roman Age envelops you, with the cistern's wooden platforms and aesthetic wonders revealing stories of yesteryears.
  • The iconic Basilica Cistern Medusa captures your attention, captivating you with its enigmatic charm.
  • Your visit will be enhanced by a knowledgeable guide, who will provide you with insights about the Cistern.
  • Revel in unique Byzantine artistry, including luminous columns that dot the expansive Byzantine Cistern.
  • Understand the significance of this water reservoir, once crucial for the Great Palace, now a testament to architectural prowess.
  • With Basilica Cistern Online Tickets, your entry is streamlined, letting you bypass crowds, and ensuring a seamless Basilica Cistern visit.
  • Learn the facts about Basilica Cistern Price and Basilica Cistern Entrance Fee for a well-informed trip.
  • Not just historical tales, the cistern's vastness, spanning two football fields, is a sight to behold.
  • Your guide, the bridge between past and present, ensures every corner of the Medusa Istanbul Basilica Cistern leaves an imprint on your memories.


  • Skip the line entry into Basilica Cistern
  • Services of a professional English-speaking guide for the entire tour
Basilica Cistern: Fast Track Entry + Guided Tour
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Basilica Cistern Fast Track Entry Guided Tour
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  • Book your skip the line tickets to explore the famous Basilica Cistern, one of the largest & most popular cisterns located in Istanbul

  • Witness the Medusa heads; one of the three Gorgons with snakes in place of hair that could turn anyone into stone

  • With raised wooden platforms, vaulted ceiling, and aesthetic beauty, the Basilica Cistern reflects the history and culture of the Roman Age

  • Get an inverted walk experience, as the water in the cistern is so crystal clear that it reflects the ceiling

  • A friendly tour guide who will assist you throughout the tour and will tell you interesting stories and facts about this historical monument

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Must Know Before You Go
  • Fixed day ticket implies that this ticket will be applicable only for the date that you've booked the ticket, it won't be carried forward to next or any other day.
  • ID proof is mandatory for each individual guest at the time of arrival.
  • All foreign nationals must share their passport and visa details at the time of arrival.
  • Latecomers or no-shows can't be refunded.
  • Basilica Cistern is wheelchair accessible. However, there is no wheelchair service available on the site. You need to provide your own wheelchair if needed.
  • Visitors will find an elevator providing easy access to the sightseeing platform.
  • Age policies change according to the package. Please go through the policies in the package before booking.
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Facts About Basilica Cistern

Facts About Basilica Cistern
  • The Basilica Cistern, often dubbed the Sunken Palace, stands as the grandest extant Byzantine Cistern in Istanbul's heart.
  • Renowned as the Yerebatan Cistern, this ancient structure boasts a formidable storage ability of approximately 80,000 cubic meters of water.
  • The Basilica Cistern history spans over two millennia, making it a testament to ancient engineering and architectural brilliance.
  • Comprising 336 unique columns, the Basilica Cistern offers a deep dive into Byzantine craftsmanship and design.
  • Historically significant, another one of the many Basilica Cistern facts suggests that this cistern once efficiently supplied water to the Great Palace and its neighbouring edifices, leveraging expansive aqueducts that originated near the Black Sea.
  • Despite its significance, the Basilica Cistern fell into disuse following the migration of the Byzantine emperors, only to be rediscovered by Petrus Gyllius in 1545.
  • Beyond serving the Grand Palace, this cistern played a crucial role in supplying water to Byzantium, the city itself, making it among the major Basilica Cistern facts.
  • Its moniker, Basilica Cistern, is derived from the Stoa Basilica square that historically loomed above the cistern.
  • As a beacon for history aficionados, the Basilica Cistern Museum notes that the Sunken Cistern attracts over 2.2 million global visitors annually.
  • The cistern measures 453 feet in length and 212 feet in width, making it one of the largest surviving cisterns in all of Istanbul.
  • Its cinematic appeal is undeniable, having featured in renowned movies such as "From Russia with Love" (1963) and "The International" (2019).

Plan Your Visit to Basilica Cistern

What are Basilica Cistern’s Timings?
Where is Basilica Cistern Located?
Best Time to Visit Basilica Cistern
What are Basilica Cistern’s Timings?
  • Weekly Opening days: You can plan your Basilica Cistern visit, as the attraction is open every day of the week. 

  • Day timings: The Basilica Cistern opening hours are between 09:00 AM to 10:00 PM on all days of the week. 

  • Duration Of Visit: The duration of your Basilica Cistern visit typically ranges between 30 minutes to 2 hours. Its vast size, 336 unique columns, detailed craftsmanship, especially the captivating Basilica Cistern Medusa heads, informational guides, and the allure of photography contribute to the duration. Peak visitor times might extend your stay, allowing a deeper appreciation of its historical significance.

Things to See in Basilica Cistern

Medusa Head
Medusa Head

One of the most unusual, yet popular attractions within the Basilica Cistern, often referred to as the Sunken Palace, are the mysterious Medusa heads. Why one is sideways and the other upside-down remains a subject of speculation, a mystery deepened by the Basilica Cistern Facts surrounding them. These heads, salvaged from a bygone Byzantine Cistern era, were strategically placed beneath two of the 336 columns. Their peculiar orientation could be a deliberate act to negate the mythical power of Medusa's gaze. Legends that envelop the Medusa Istanbul Basilica Cistern make them pivotal highlights during any Basilica Cistern visit.

Weeping Column
Weeping Column

Amidst the symphony of Basilica Cistern architecture, the Weeping Column stands with an impressive narrative. Constantly wet, as if mourning, it is a heartfelt ode to the countless slaves who met their untimely end during the Basilica Cistern's construction. The Basilica Cistern history reveals that the intricately carved peacocks symbolize immortality, and the drooping branches might signify sorrow. This column serves as a tactile reminder of the sacrifices made during its construction; a site visitors can glance at with their Basilica Cistern Tickets.

Secret Tunnel
Secret Tunnel

Beyond the grandeur of the main Yerebatan Cistern expanse awaits a covert treasure: the Secret Tunnel. Historically pivotal, this passage once transported life-sustaining water to the illustrious Topkapi Palace. The tunnel stands as a testament to the Byzantine Cistern era's architectural prowess, its dimly lit confines allow visitors to momentarily relive the mystique and significance of the ancient waterway.

Water Ripple Effect
Water Ripple Effect

The Basilica Cistern is more than just a historic reservoir or a tourist spot covered by the Basilica Cistern Museum it is a place of reflection. The serenity of the water's surface, occasionally broken by gentle ripples, casts ethereal reflections of the overhead architecture. This play of light and shadow, combined with the sound of droplets, creates a meditative ambience, urging visitors to pause and immerse themselves in the Basilica Cistern history.

Stone Staircase
Stone Staircase

Your journey into the heart of the Basilica Cistern Museum begins with the descent of a 52-step stone staircase. Each step unravels the enormity of the Sunken Palace, gradually revealing the vast array of columns and shimmering waters below. This entrance, a blend of form and function, symbolizes a transition from the bustling world above to the mesmerizing realm of the Basilica Cistern.

Marble Columns
Marble Columns

The Basilica Cistern's spine is undoubtedly its 336 magnificent marble columns, a core component of the Basilica Cistern architecture. Each column, with its distinct artistry, echoes tales of a vibrant past. From the unembellished beauty of the Doric style to the intricate flourishes of the Corinthian, these columns encapsulate the Basilica Cistern history. Whispers amongst historians suggest that some might have been reclaimed from the once-majestic Forum of Theodosius, adding depth to the Basilica Cistern facts known today.

History of Basilica Cistern

Who Built Basilica Cistern
Who Built Basilica Cistern

Emperor Constantine initially laid the foundation for what would become the Basilica Cistern in the heart of Constantinople. However, it was Emperor Justinian I, a prominent figure in Basilica Cistern history, who expanded and completed it after the devastating Nika riots in 532. When you delve into your Basilica Cistern visit, you'll learn how Justinian, the same emperor who gave us the Hagia Sophia, utilized around 7,000 slaves for this massive project. Their labour transformed a once magnificent basilica into what locals called the Yerebatan Cistern or Sunken Palace, aptly named for its underground columns.

What Was The Basilica Cistern Used For
What Was The Basilica Cistern Used For

Originally situated under the Stoa Basilica, this Byzantine Cistern served as a vital water reservoir for the Great Palace of Constantinople and the surrounding buildings on the First Hill. Even after the Ottoman conquest in 1453, it continued to hydrate the Topkapi Palace. Over time, the significance of the Basilica Cistern diminished, and its existence became a whispered legend among locals. It was only in 1565 that a French traveller, Petrus Gyllius, rediscovered it, intrigued by stories of residents fetching water, and occasionally fish, from this subterranean marvel.

When Was Basilica Cistern Built
When Was Basilica Cistern Built

The Basilica Cistern, or as you might find in some Basilica Cistern facts, the Medusa Istanbul Basilica Cistern, was constructed during the 6th century. Its placement is about 150 meters southwest of the Hagia Sophia, making it a focal point on the historical peninsula of Sarayburnu. While the initial concept might date back to Emperor Constantine’s time, the monumental work and final architectural beauty, seen when you make your Basilica Cistern entrance, is attributed to the reign of Byzantine Emperor Justinian I.

Architecture of Basilica Cistern


In the heart of Istanbul, the Basilica Cistern, also dubbed the Sunken Palace or Yerebatan Cistern, stands as a testament to the grandeur of Byzantine Cistern architecture. Spanning an expansive area of 9,800 square meters, the Basilica Cistern architecture reveals itself in its 336 masterfully carved columns. As visitors descend a 52-step staircase, the essence of Basilica Cistern's history envelops them. These columns, which intriguingly have origins in older structures, are a blend of diverse marbles, exhibiting the finesse of both Corinth and Doric styles. The 4.80-meter thick brick walls, a core component of the Basilica Cistern architecture, are plastered with robust Horasan mortar ensuring longevity and impermeability.


Located near the Hagia Sophia, the Basilica Cistern Museum underwent a transformative restoration. The Basilica Cistern Visit was paused in 2017 due to potential earthquake threats. However, after five dedicated years, it was rejuvenated, with the Basilica Cistern entrance welcoming visitors to experience its renewed splendour. The latest restoration introduced a footbridge and enhanced lighting, revealing details reminiscent of the Medusa Istanbul Basilica Cistern era. Presently, the Yerebatan Sarnıcı stands strong against nature's furies and disasters. Additionally, it also mesmerizes visitors with light shows and art installations, making every Basilica Cistern visit an unforgettable journey through history.

Tips to Visit Basilica Cistern

  • When purchasing Basilica Cistern Tickets, opt for Basilica Cistern Online Tickets. If you decide to buy at the Basilica Cistern entrance, carry cash, as they don't accept cards.
  • To beat the crowd during your Basilica Cistern visit, arrive early or consider visiting during the off-season. The Basilica Cistern timings are also crucial to note for an unhindered experience.
  • Make sure to buy a separate ticket for a nominal Basilica Cistern Entrance Fee to be able to explore this landmark at your own pace. 
  • As you traverse the underground wonder, also known as Yerebatan Cistern or Sunken Palace, wear sturdy shoes. The floor can be quite slippery.
  • Istanbul is a place of religious significance. Ensure your attire covers your arms and knees, adhering to the Basilica Cistern dress code.
  • While the Basilica Cistern history and Basilica Cistern architecture are captivating, don't miss the intriguing Basilica Cistern Medusa pillars. Dive into the tales of the Medusa Istanbul Basilica Cistern.
  • The Basilica Cistern is cooler than the city above. A light cardigan can be handy.
  • Capture your memories with mobile phones, but refrain from using tripods or bulky equipment.
  • Plan your route. Knowing the Basilica Cistern location in advance can save you time.
  • Engage deeper by acquainting yourself with some Basilica Cistern insider tips. Knowing more about this Byzantine Cistern enhances the experience.

FAQs of Basilica Cistern

Which are the best places to visit near the Basilica Cistern?

    • Blue Mosque: Located near the Yerebatan Cistern, this historic Blue Mosque is renowned for its six minarets and impressive blue tiles that adorn its interior. When you marvel at its intricacies, you're witnessing centuries of religious and architectural evolution, making it a perfect complement to your Basilica Cistern visit.
    • Hagia Sophia: Located just 14 metres away from Basilica Cistern entrance, Hagia Sophia stands as a testament to Byzantine grandeur. Its massive dome, intricate mosaics, and the synthesis of Christian and Islamic elements showcase a city and structure at the crossroads of two worlds.
    • Topkapi Palace: After being delighted by the Medusa Istanbul Basilica Cistern, this expansive palace offers a journey through Ottoman history. Exhibiting treasures from the Prophet Muhammad, vast courtyards, and the sultans' opulent harems, it paints a vivid picture of an empire's luxurious past.
    • Dolmabahce Palace: Contrasting the underground allure of the Sunken Palace, Dolmabahce Palace dazzles with European flair. Overlooking the Bosphorus, its lavish rooms, crystal chandelier, and meticulously landscaped gardens echo a period of modernization and Western influence in the Ottoman realm.

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