Basilica Cistern

Sometimes it seems that in summer hot Istanbul there is not a single secluded place where you can escape from the scorching sun. But in fact, it is located right in the center of the Turkish metropolis – the Sultanahmet region. This is the Basilica cistern – a perfectly preserved ancient underground reservoir of Constantinople, located at a depth of 10-12 meters. In this huge cool room, you can not only escape the heat, but also learn a lot of interesting things.

The structure was built on the site of the Basilica of St. Sophia. Cistern in Greek means “reservoir”, so today the museum is called the Basilica cistern.

To date, more than 40 cisterns have been found near Istanbul.

The Greeks began to build the Basilica cistern during the reign of Emperor Constantine I (306-337), and finished only in 532, already under the reign of Emperor Justinian. Of course, such a large-scale construction was started for a reason – a large supply of drinking water was stored in the cistern in case of a drought or a siege of the city. It holds about 100 thousand tons of water.

By the way, the Basilica cistern vaguely resembles a palace, since it consists of 336 nine-meter columns. All columns are outwardly different, as they were brought from different ancient temples. On two columns are the marble heads of Medusa the Gorgon. Historians still cannot figure out where these columns were brought from. In addition, scientists do not know exactly why one column is upside down and the other is turned on its side. Perhaps this was done so that people were not afraid to turn to stone by accidentally looking into the eyes of the Gorgon. After all, this is exactly what could have happened, according to the myths of Ancient Greece.

Istanbul Cistern Basilica vaguely resembles a palace, as it consists of 336 columns. All columns are outwardly different, as they were brought from different ancient temples.

Water entered the cistern via aqueducts from the Belgrade Forest, located 19 km north of Istanbul, on the Black Sea coast. Interestingly, the Greeks took care of the safety of the cistern. Firstly, its walls are made of refractory bricks 4 meters thick. Secondly, they are covered with a special waterproofing solution. By the way, the reservoir was used for its intended purpose until the 16th century.

Then the cistern was abandoned, until the 80s of the 20th century it was forgotten. But in the end, the reservoir was emptied and cleaned up. In 1987, during the restoration of the cistern, a huge amount of dirt was removed, the floor was concreted, and wooden decks were made, which travelers walk on today. Now the tank is beautifully illuminated from the inside, and the water level in it is quite small – 40-50 cm.

In the cistern of the Basilica, episodes of many famous films were filmed. 

It also has its own beliefs that tourists love very much. For example, to make your greatest wish come true, you need to go to the “Column of Tears”, decorated with curls. In one of these patterns, you need to insert your finger and rotate it 360 degrees. Well, then just wait for the cherished dream to come true.

In addition, the “Pool of Wishes” is located nearby, where travelers from all over the world throw coins to make a wish.

Practical information

The Basilica Cistern is located at 13 Yerebatan Cad., Sultanahmet. Sultanahmet area, near the Hagia Sophia Museum, next to the zero mile sign. Entrance fee is 20 TRY.

Website.