Basilica Cistern Guide: Exploring the Hidden Gem of Istanbul

If you’re planning a trip to Istanbul, Turkey, make sure to add the Basilica Cistern to your list of must-see attractions. This ancient underground water reservoir, also known as the “Yerebatan Sarnıcı” in Turkish, is an architectural wonder that dates back to the 6th century. In this article, we will guide you through the Basilica Cistern History, features, and highlights of the Basilica Cistern.

Basilica Cistern History

The Basilica Cistern was built during the reign of Emperor Justinian I in 532 AD, as a part of a larger project to improve the water supply of Constantinople, the capital of the Byzantine Empire. It was designed to store and supply water for the Great Palace of Constantinople and nearby buildings.

The cistern is located underneath the ancient city of Istanbul, known as Byzantium in the past. It is a vast underground chamber that measures 138 meters long and 64.6 meters wide, with a capacity of up to 80,000 cubic meters of water.

The cistern was constructed using over 300 marble columns, which were brought from different parts of the empire. Some of the columns were recycled from earlier structures, while others were specially made for the cistern. The columns support the arches that span the width of the chamber, creating a unique forest-like effect.

The Basilica Cistern was in use for more than a thousand years, but it fell into disuse and was forgotten by the residents of Istanbul until the 16th century when a scholar named Petrus Gyllius rediscovered it. He wrote about the cistern in his book “Observations on the Topography and Antiquities of Istanbul,” which helped to bring the cistern back into the public consciousness.

Features and Highlights

The Basilica Cistern has several unique features and highlights that make it a must-see attraction for visitors to Istanbul. Here are some of them:

Medusa Heads: Two giant Medusa heads, one upside down and the other sideways, are located at the base of two columns in the northwest corner of the cistern. Their origin and purpose are not clear, but they add a sense of mystery and intrigue to the cistern.

Ambient Lighting: The cistern is dimly lit, which creates a mysterious and atmospheric ambiance. The columns and arches are illuminated with soft lights, highlighting their beauty and adding to the overall effect.

Reflections on Water: The cistern has a shallow pool of water on its floor, which adds to the overall aesthetic and creates a unique reflection of the columns and arches.

Wooden Walkways: Visitors can explore the cistern via wooden walkways that crisscross the chamber, allowing them to get up close to the columns and see the details of their carvings.

Visitors to the cistern can also enjoy an audio guide that provides information about the history, construction, and features of the cistern in several languages.


The Basilica Cistern is a hidden gem of Istanbul that offers visitors a unique and unforgettable experience. Its history, architecture, and features make it a must-see attraction for anyone interested in ancient history and architecture. So, if you’re planning a trip to Istanbul, make sure to add the Basilica Cistern to your list of places to visit. You won’t regret it!


18 thoughts on “Basilica Cistern Guide: Exploring the Hidden Gem of Istanbul

  • I would love to visit one day. It looks like a gorgeous spot.

  • Wow! The story alone of this place is amazing! I’ve never been to Turkey, but I may have a excuse now! Thanks so much for sharing!

  • Sounds like such an amazing place to visit. I wouldn’t mind checking it out someday.

  • What an amazing place. This would be nice to visit one day.

  • Thank you so much for sharing your experience and insights about the Basilica Cistern in Istanbul. Your guide was so informative and really made me feel like I was there with you. I can’t wait to visit someday!

  • I’ve never been to Turkey before. The Basilica Cistern sounds like a really amazing place to visit. It sounds lie it would be a beautiful sight, especially with the reflections on the water.

  • I wish that I could go to Turkey. I bet it is beautiful. I’ll have to add this to my bucket list.

  • I’ve heard so many curious things about Istanbul! This is one more reason to visit it! So beautiful!

  • This looks like a breathtaking visit! I also appreciate seeing historical structures.

  • I am thrilled to have stumbled upon this article about the Basilica Cistern in Istanbul. The vivid descriptions and beautiful imagery truly transported me to this hidden gem. The historical context provided made me appreciate the site even more. Bravo!

  • This looks like a really wonderful and amazing place! I would really love to visit there one day

  • That Basilica looks gorgeous! I hope I get to see it in person someday.

  • It looks like an amazing spot to visit. I would love to visit it one day. Thanks for sharing this with us.

  • It will be a great experience to come see some of the places on this list, as I enjoy exploring new places.

  • I have always wanted to travel to Istanbul and what I do I will make sure to see the place for myself! It is stunningly beautiful and I love history!


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