TurkeyIstanbul $$$$$ All Year Mostly Indoor
Ancient History

Basilica Cistern (Yerebatan Sarnici)

The largest surviving water cistern running underneath Istanbul city constructed in 532 AD. This example of the Byzantine Empire’s engineering prowess is 459 feet long, 229 feet wide, and can hold 100,000 tones of water.

The cistern is supported by over 300 finely carved columns, 29 feet high, that were salvaged from ruined Roman temples. Visitors with a keen eye will notice two columns resembling giant Medusa heads at the northwestern edge of the cistern.

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Price

Adult: ₺20 (USD$2.56), Student: ₺5 ($0.64)

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Time Spent

30-90minutes

Fitness level: Light effort

Hours

9am-5:30pm7 days

Look Around

Who Will Like Basilica Cistern

Culture Buff

Explore this 1,400-year-old engineering marvel and discover intricate details like the different design styles found in the columns.

Photography Whiz

Feast your eyes in this photographer’s playground and as you capture intricate designs on various columns and test your skills in the dim lighting conditions.

Mystery Hunter

Embrace the chilly underground temperatures as you solve the riddle of the Medusa heads. Why is one upside down and the other on its side? And where did they come from?

Insider Tips For Basilica Cistern

  • Visit early in the morning and on weekdays to avoid the longest queues.
  • For skip-the-line tickets and to visit with a licensed guide, purchase tickets online in advance.
  • Give your eyes a few minutes to adjust to the dim lighting conditions before attempting to move around.

Video

Where Is It

Alemdar Mh., Yerebatan Cd. 1/3, 34410 Fatih/İstanbul, Turkey

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How To Get There

Taxi

Insist your taxi driver uses the meter before hopping in.

Bus (iST-20Sultanahmet)

5-minute walk from bus stop.

Walking directions from bus...

Train (T1)

3-minute walk from train station.

Walking directions from train...

What To Bring

Do:
  • Drinking water  as the options are limited after entering the queue. 
  • Sweater if you are sensitive to the cold.
  • Comfortable shoes for walking.
Don't:
  • Large bags or bulky items difficult to carry. 
  • Flashlights or external camera flash.

Tech & Photography

Wifi

Public wifi access: None

Photography

Photography allowed: Yes

Tripod allowed: No

Selfie sticks allowed: Not encouraged

Best time to shoot: Anytime

Tips: As lighting conditions are very dark, use the low light or night settings on your camera or smartphone. For DSLRs, try resting the camera on the ground to capture a crisp long exposure.

Drones

Drones allowed: No

Bags

Backpacks allowed: Yes

Secured bag lockers available: No

Food & Drink

Several Turkish and international restaurants are located on surrounding streets. Food stands selling drinks and snacks like Turkish ice cream are located in the nearby public square located 2-minutes’ walk south.

Backstory

Commissioned in 532 AD by Emperor Justinian I to supply water to the Imperial Palace. The cistern was named after the ancient basilica that previously occupied its location.

Although the cistern appears to boast intricate architecture for an underground water reservoir, the most eye-catching items are the 12 rows of 28 support columns that were recycled from nearby Roman and Greek buildings. The mainly Doric and Corinthian style columns showcase several design features from the times. Two especially fascinating columns rest on giant Medusa heads, the origins of which are unknown.

The cistern ceased to be used during the period of the Ottoman Empire and has been renovated and repaired several times over the last 300 years.

You might recognize this location from the films James Bond, From Russia With Love (1963) and the Inferno (2016) which is inspired by Dan Brown’s novel.

Etiquette

Do:
  • Be respectful of other visitors in the entry and elevator queues.
Don't:
  • Wade or swim in the pools of water. 

Scorecard

Best Parts:
  • Well preserved and unique architecture incorporating recycled materials from the ancient Roman era.
  • Immense size and engineering prowess provides a peek into the brilliance of past civilizations.
Could Be Better:
  • Smell of stagnant water throughout the site. 
  • Small and few elevators descending into the cistern.
My itinerary Save View

Oh, you're so close

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Joining only takes a minute and it's... um... free! Plus you get other perks like badges, points, and unicorns.

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