The Basilica Cistern (“Yerebatan” in Turkish, which means “sinking to the ground”), serving a museum now, is one of the most impressive and mystical buildings in Istanbul, as well as one of the most visited sights in Istanbul. Neighboring the famous Hagia Sophia Museum, the cistern is located in the Sultanahmet neighborhood of Fatih district, along the Sultanahmet Sqaure.
The 140 meters long and 70 meters wide cistern was built in the 6th century (532) as an underground water reservoir for the Byzantium Emperor Justinianus I (527-565) near Hagia Sophia and covers a giant rectangular area of 9,800 m2 and has a capacity to store 100,000 tons of water. The name “Basilica” comes from the former religious structure on the site where the cistern was built. The cistern is accessed by 52-step staircase and shelters 336 columns, each of which is 9 meters high and within a 4,8 meters distance from each other.
The cistern is a very quiet and peaceful place conveyed by the columns through impressive arches. The columns, including the legendary Medusa Heads, were compiled from the ancient structures and sculpted of several kinds of marbles.
History of the Basilica Cistern
Basilica Cistern was built with the order of Emperor Justinianus I and it was used to meet the water needs of the Great Palace, during Byzantium period. The water were coming from the Belgrad Forests region, 19 km. away from the cistern via two aqueducts on the water transfer centers.
Ottoman Empire’s conquest of Istanbul in 1453, by Fatih Sultan Mehmed, the cistern was used for a little while to meet the water need of the gardens of the Topkapi Palace. However, Ottomans established their own water facilities or it was believed that it is against the Islamic rules and the cistern was not used thereafter and forgotten. The cistern than rediscovered in the years 1544-1550 by P. Gyllius, a Dutch traveler who has came to Istanbul for making researches on Byzantium ruins. And after this rediscovery, the cistern has become very famous within the Western countries.
Nowadays, the Basilica Cistern is one of the most visited sights in Istanbul.
The two Medusa Heads, which are used as supports under the two columns at the northwest edge of the cistern, take the most interest and attracts the visitors in the Basilica Cistern. It is also not known yet that how did those Medusa Head come to the cistern. And so there has been many myths for the Medusa heads.
The most known one is that; Medusa was one of the most beautiful girls in the ancient times, famous for her black eyes, long hair and beautiful body. She has fallen in love with Perseus, the semi-god son of Zeus. On the contrary, the jealous Athena was also in love with Perseus and so Athena cursed Medusa and converted her hair into snakes and her beauty went away. Her glance also started to gorgonise the men looking at her. And after, Perseus headed off Medusa and beat the enemies by using her power.
According to another myth; Medusa was one of the three Gorgonas (female monster of the underworld in Greek mythology) with snake-head. She has the power of gorgonising the ones that look at her. And so putting the Medusa Head in the cistern was for protecting purposes.
Visiting Information & Ticket Price
Open every day between 09:00-17:30
Hours of Ticket Sale:
Counters close one hour before the museum closing time
Opened at 13.00 on the first day of religious holidays
Guided Tours for the Basilica Cistern
You may explore the Basilica Cistern via daily tours made by the local travel agents with professional guides. It is a very good option if you don’t want to go through the hassle of making all the arrangements including the tickets, waiting at the queue and 2-ways transportation by your own and feel like you may have troubles with them. And we recommend the two world brands GetYourGuide or Viator tours, made by the best reputed and registered tour agents in Istanbul and offer comfortable, safe and the cheapest tours with 2-ways transportation from your hotel or meeting point, professional guides, insurance and easy cancellation. You may find the top selling guided Basilica Cistern tours below.
How to Get There?
The Basilica Cistern is situated in the Sultanahmet neighborhood of Fatih district, along the Sultanahmet Sqaure, just across the famous Hagia Sophia Museum. Getting to Basilica Cistern is very easy and there are several trasnportation options.
- For the ones who stay in the Sultanahmet hotels, they can get to Basilica Cistern by walking.
- From Taksim, you may take the Bagcilar-Kabatas tram (T1 line) from the Kabatas stop or the other stops along the Galata Bridge. To get to tram stops; from the Taksim Square, you may take the Taksim-Kabatas funicular (F1 line), get to Kabatas tram stop and take the tram for Sultanahmet. And from the end of the Istiklal Avenue, on the Tunel Square, you may walk downwards or take the Tunel-Karakoy funicular (F2 line) to get to Karakoy tram stop and take the tram for Sultanahmet.
- From Kadikoy or Uskudar, on the Asian side, you may take the ferries operating to Kabatas, Karakoy or Eminonu and from there you may take the Bagcilar-Kabatas tram (T1 line) for Sultanahmet.
You may see the public bus routes and timetables as well as make a route/station search from the Istanbul Municipality Public Busses website. Also check the Istanbul Railway Network Map for the Tram stops and Istanbul Ferry Lines Map for ferries.
Address, phone, web and map
Address: Alemdar Mh., Yerebatan Str. 1/3, Fatih, Istanbul
Tel: +90 212 512 15 70