Basilica Cistern Facts

Interesting Facts about the Basilica Cistern

The land of Turkey is an ancient and enchanting one, where some of the world’s best tourist destinations are located. The Basilica Cistern, also known as Cisterna Basilica, is one such interesting historical attraction in Turkey. On your visit to Istanbul, you can witness this massive subterranean reservoir built during Emperor Justinian's reign in 532 AD. 

One of the fascinating Basilica Cistern facts is that it was built beneath the Stoa Basilica and this is the reason why it received this name. Here, you can marvel at the grand reservoir that is lined by 336 columns, some of which have been extracted from the ruins of ancient temples. This underground water tank was used to supply water to most parts of the city, including Topkapi Palace after the Ottoman conquest. Hence, it has served its role for many centuries without fail and has now become one of the most visited attractions in Istanbul. On your visit, you can experience the ambience of the place which fills you with a sense of age-old legacy and history.

Basilica Cistern Receives More Than 2.2 Million Visitors Annually

The Basilica Cistern is one of the most visited places in the land of Istanbul, and its popularity has increased in recent times. It has made an appearance in several James Bond and Dan Brown movies that focus on the cultural and historical significance of the place. It receives a footfall of around 2.2 Million visitors annually, especially after the release of Dan Brown’s book ‘Inferno’. Therefore, it is one of the must-visit tourist attractions to visit while touring the land of Turkey.

Basilica Cistern Looks Like an Underground Palace

One interesting Basilica Cistern fact is that it is also known as ‘The Sunken Palace’. It occupies a ground of around 138 metres by 65 metres, and it is held up by a colonnade consisting of 336 columns. The huge area of this attraction and the structure of the building gives the appearance of an underground palace. It served as an important shelter in times of war, accommodating thousands of people and children. The high vaulted ceiling of this place is made of brick, and it adds to the grandeur of this architectural wonder.

Basilica Cistern Is Between 1500 To 1700 Years Old

The Basilica Cistern was constructed during the ancient Roman Empire by Emperor Justinian, in the year 532 AD. Initially built as a commercial, artistic and legal centre, this place is now almost 15 to 17 centuries old. It still stands tall, attracting millions of tourists to marvel at its magnificence. The attraction holds a massive historical and cultural significance that tells a lot about the transformation of times and power in Turkey.

The Cistern Was Built as A Water Storage Tank

The Cisterna Basilica was built initially as a tank, considering the necessity of a constant water supply to the Great Palace of Constantinople. Eventually, the Stoa Basilica, the Topkapi Palace and other important buildings of the time started benefitting from this reservoir as well. In times of scarcity, it could store gallons of water enough to take care of the water needs of the entire region. According to Basilica Cistern facts, apart from being a water storage tank this place also served as a shelter of safety for the people in times of war.

Basilica Cistern Is an Archaeological Wonder

The attraction of Basilica Cistern is known by different names due to its archaeological significance like the colonnade and the engravings upon them, the vaulted ceiling and the Corinthian columns. There are two columns with Medusa Heads engraved at the base one of which is placed sideways and the other is inverted. There is another column named the Weeping Column, it was built to commemorate the hundreds of slaves who gave up their lives for the genius construction of this underground reservoir.

Basilica Cistern Can Hold About 80,000 Cubic Metres of Water

The dimension of this subterranean water tank ranges from 138 metres in length and 65 metres in breadth, and the height of the vaulted ceiling is around 41 metres. Although the entirety of this place is not used to store water, according to data, it can hold approximately 80,000 cubic metres of water. It was enough to sustain most of the important buildings of the city of Istanbul and even served as a major source of water for the locals during war times as well.

Visitors Need to Plan Their Visit Properly

Visiting the marvellous attraction of Basilica Cistern requires preparation and planning. The temperature of this place is cooler as it is an underground reservoir. So, you may want to carry a stole to keep yourself warm. It is a wheelchair-friendly place to aid everyone in experiencing the ambience and significance of the place. The attraction is open every day from 9 a.m to 7 p.m and requires a ticket for entrance. You can book the tickets for a fully guided tour online, to gain wholesome knowledge about this attraction and enjoy its splendour.

The Cistern Was Used as A Location for Several Movies

This water storage tank which almost gives off a feeling of being an underground palace with its dark and gloomy atmosphere, was used as an important location in several films. The 1963 James Bond movie ‘From Russia With Love’ utilised this location to present a crucial scene. Another popular movie where this attraction was showcased to its utmost significance is the 2016 Ron Howard movie ‘Inferno’ which was based upon the Dan Brown novel named the same.

The Cistern Was Initially Abandoned and Used as A Dumping Site

As per Basilica Cistern facts, this cistern was newly discovered by the Ottomans after their conquest. However, initially, it did not catch their interest so they turned it into a dumping ground. A few years later after a proper excavation, they started utilising it for the original purpose it served, that is water storage. This stored water was supplied to various parts of the region including the Topkapi palace and other official buildings in their empire.

The Cistern Was Opened to The Public In 1987

The historic location of Basilica Cistern was opened to the public as a tourist attraction on 9th September 1987, after that it was closed and reopened several times for restoration and cleaning purposes. The last time it was closed to the public was in 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic. It opened its gates again in 2022, and since then it is operational as a tourist spot.


What is the Basilica Cistern?

The Basilica Cistern is an ancient underground water storage system located in Istanbul, Turkey. It was built in the 6th century during the reign of Byzantine Emperor Justinian I.

How big is the Basilica Cistern?

The Basilica Cistern covers an area of approximately 9,800 square meters (105,000 square feet) and has a capacity of 80,000 cubic meters (2,800,000 cubic feet) of water.

What are the opening hours of the Basilica Cistern?

As of 2021, the Basilica Cistern is open every day from 9:00 AM to 6:30 PM.

Is the Basilica Cistern accessible for people with disabilities?

Unfortunately, the Basilica Cistern is not fully accessible for people with disabilities due to the steep staircase leading down to the entrance. However, there is a wheelchair lift available upon request.

What is Basilica Cistern famous for?

A- The Basilica Cistern is famous for its architecture and its historical significance. The colonnades, the high-ceiling walls, the water tank and the carved columns bear great importance. The ambience of the place is quite chilly and gloomy, giving off a vibe of mystery that can transport you to a different realm altogether.

Why was Basilica Cistern built?

A- As per one of the important Basilica Cistern facts, this huge infrastructure was built in order to store and supply water for the nearby regions of the ancient Roman Empire. It served as one of the most important sources of water for the official buildings during and after the Roman reign. The Ottomans used this reservoir to supply water to Topkapi Palace as well, and over the years it gained a rich historical significance.

When was Basilica Cistern first built?

A- The Basilica Cistern was first built in 532 AD by Emperor Justinian. It is almost 17 centuries old and has gained immense popularity worldwide due to its cultural and historical significance. It is now regarded as one of the earliest architectural marvels in Europe.

What movies was filmed in the Basilica Cistern?

A- Several movies were filmed in the Basilica Cistern. They are namely, ‘From Russia With Love’, ‘Inferno’, ‘The International’, ‘Brotherhood of Tears’ and much more. It is receiving increasing popularity in the pop culture world, which is in turn boosting the tourism of this attraction and making its significance known to people.

How deep is the water in the Basilica Cistern?

A- It is a Basilica Cistern fact that this huge reservoir can store around 80000 cubic metres of water. This tank has a length of 138 metres and a breadth of 65 metres. Its water level fluctuates and therefore the exact depth is not known. 

What is the history of the cistern?

A- The history of this cistern is rich and unique due to its age, construction and the purpose it served. It is the longest surviving Byzantine cistern in Istanbul that was initially built as a water storage and supply reservoir for the Roman Empire. Later on it was discarded by the Ottomans, however, they excavated it and used it again for the same purpose. According to some of the interesting Basilica Cistern facts, it served as shelter in war-times and bears some archaeological wonders that are a must to witness.


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