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Basilica Cistern


51 reviews of Basilica Cistern

See Roberto Gonzalez's photos
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The depths of history

One of Istanbul's most majestic historical monuments is undoubtedly the Basilica Cistern, built during the reign of Justinian I. It's sometimes referred to as the "Sunken Palace" due to the columns which rise up from the water. The "Basilica" part of the name comes from the fact that a basilica once stood on the spot where it was built.

The Basilica Cistern is 140 meters long by 70 meters wide and is reached by a 52-step staircase. Once inside, you are suddenly faced with 336 separate columns, each measuring 9 meters high, which are organized into 12 rows of 28 columns. Most of the columns were carved from a single piece of marble.The ground is made of bricks covered in Horsan plaster and can hold up to 100,000 tons of water. If you walk to the end and descend the steps, you'll find two columns whose bas-reliefs depict the head of Medusa. It's a curious find since no one knows exactly how or why it came to be.

According to popular belief, they once used these images of mythological beings to protect important buildings, and the face of Medusa was put at the farthest end so as not to petrify people when they entered. Another curious fact is that there are supposedly well openings in the basements of nearby homes which were once used to extract water. They even say there are houses whose basements contain entryways to previously unexplored parts of the Cistern.

As far as maintenance goes, they've done an excellent job. Lucky us as we can all enjoy the beauty and silence of this peaceful place.
Roberto Gonzalez
See Chris Pearrow's photos
1 photo

Ancient atmosphere

The Basilica Cistern is located right in the heart of Istanbul's Sultanahmet district, right in the same Hippodrome-Hagia Sofia complex. With all the incredible things to see in Istanbul, many people skip (or just don't know) the Cistern, but I'd put it at the top of my list. First of all, it's not nearly as crowded as many of the other sights in Sultanahmet. You go down some stairs and suddenly enter a cavernous underground chamber resonating with the sound of dripping water and lit by a few eerie red lights. We went along walkways stretched over a koi-filled reservoir lined with massive columns dating back to Alexander the Great. The highlight is the Medusa's Head column, which, to be fair, was impressive but you have to shuffle in a line to get a quick view of it, so I wouldn't put to much importance on it. Rather, just hang out and enjoy the otherworldliness of the place.
Chris Pearrow
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Gato Monge
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Information about Basilica Cistern

Basilica Cistern Phone Number
0212 518 1001
0212 518 1001
Basilica Cistern Address
Imran Öktem Caddesi 4, Binbirdirek
Imran Öktem Caddesi 4, Binbirdirek
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