Basilica cistern: Historical Details, Activities and Audioguide


Justinian I, the Byzantine Emperor, commanded the building ofhe Basilica Cistern, known in Turkish as Yerebatan Sarnıcı, in 532. Built as a water reservoir for the Great Palace, the underground cistern is over 140 meters in length and 65 meters in width. 

The term “Basilica Cistern” comes from a massive basilica that formerly stood above the complex but no longer stands. Holding 80,000 million liters of water, the enormous cistern is impressive. The imperial family and other local inhabitants proved supplied with the finest quality water from the northern Belgrad Forest.

Although the cistern proved twice renovated during the Ottoman era, it was never utilized again after that, except for a brief period when it proved needed to irrigate the Topkapı Palace’s gardens. The Ottomans preferred flowing water.

The public proved not allowed access to the Basilica Cistern until 1987, after significant restoration work carried out by the Istanbul Municipality. The Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality Culture Co. is in charge of maintaining the cistern. The 2020 renovations forced the cistern to shut due to collapse danger. It has been available to tourists since July 2022 and has added an exhibition and several other upgrades.


Located in this location in late antiquity, the Great Palace was a massive basilica that used the Basilica Cistern as a water reservoir. It is now one of Istanbul’s most popular tourist destinations.


Byzantine Emperor Justinian I gave the order to construct the Basilica Cistern in the sixth century.


Situated in the Fatih neighborhood on the Historical Peninsula, the Basilica Cistern is easily accessible from Hagia Sophia and Sultanahmet Square.


Every day from 9:00 to 19:00 is Basilica Cistern’s usual opening hours.


Update: The Basilica Cistern reopened to guests in July 2022 after a two-year closure due to restoration.

Activities at the Basilica Cistern

Activities at the Basilica Cistern

Explore Istanbul’s secret underground and learn about the intriguing Basilica Cistern, sometimes called the “Sunken Palace.” Today, only a few underground water cisterns are accessible to the public; the biggest and most thoroughly excavated is the Basilica Cistern. 

Visitors enter the historic structure with a total floor space of 9,800 square meters through a 52-step stairway. You may anticipate a magnificent ambiance and a serene, ethereal environment here.

Below are the highlights that you should not overlook:

1. Reopening and New Display

Reopening and New Display

In July 2022, the Basilica Cistern returned to tourists after its closure in 2020 for renovation. Along with a complete renovation, the underground structure has strengthened against earthquakes.

The concrete walkway no longer goes through the cistern; instead, a new roadway nearer the water’s surface does. In addition to the renovations, the already ethereal location has additional character thanks to several new sculptures that emerge from the water.

Along with these improvements, the cistern’s entry hall installed new lights. Nonetheless, the new exhibition with the subject “Light” should be the guests’ main attraction. Light displays will now enhance the already fantastic building’s spectacular.

2. Panels

Take a journey back in time as you meander through the 1500-year-old site. The columns made of marble are undoubtedly the first thing you will notice. They emerge from the sea, bathed in an ambient light that upholds the architecture from the sixth century.

There are a total of 336 remarkably preserved columns arranged in twelve rows. Although each of the nine-meter-long columns is different, the majority of them are cylindrical in form and contain early Byzantine and Corinthian characteristics.

3. Water coloumn

Water The columns’ reflections in the water are equally breathtaking. It seems as if you are in a totally other universe because of the almost mystical light that the spotlights shed over the surroundings. You can hear the sound of cold water splattering down from the vaulted brick ceiling as you go over the platform. Since there are normally a lot of carp splashing about in the water, you could become startled to find fish if you glance into it.

4. Heads of Medusa

The two vintage heads of Medusa from the Roman era draw a lot of attention. Seek for the two historic columns with the well-known Greek mythological character Medusa, the snake-haired one, at their base. Both of the enigmatic heads exist located on the northwest corner of the cistern. Make note of the sideways and upside-down placement of the Medusa heads.

It actually thought that the Medusa heads proved positioned for protection, since this was a custom in ancient Greece and Rome, even if the precise purpose of their location is unknown.

5. The Well of Tears

The column with the engravings of slanted branches, a Hen’s Eye, and tears is another one to watch out for. Presumably, the tears are a monument to the hundreds of slaves who lost their lives while building the cistern.

6. Musical performances

The Basilica Cistern is a popular setting for gatherings of all types because of its beautiful acoustics and breathtaking surroundings. Take advantage of the opportunity to see a concert here if you can!

7. Films

Given its fantastic scenery, it should come as no surprise that the Basilica Cistern has served as the background for several worldwide motion pictures. You may recreate the sequences from other films, including Dan Brown’s “Inferno,” which starred Tom Hanks, James Bond’s “From Russia with Love,” Clive Owen’s “The International,” and Jackie Chan’s “The Accidental Spy.”

What is the route to Basilica Cistern?

the route to Basilica Cistern

From Sultanahmet: Sultanahmet Square is within a short distance from Basilica Cistern. Northwest of Hagia Sophia is where you’ll find it.

To get to Kabataş, use the funicular F1 from Taksim. Take tram T1 at Kabataş Station and go to Sultanahmet Station after seven stops. Basilica Cistern is about two minutes away from here.

Top Audioguide for Basilica Visits stern

Top Audioguide for Basilica Visits stern

An excellent method to see the city’s sights at your speed is with an audio guide! You may quickly and affordably get to know the city using your phone. The most incredible AudioGuide app for travelers is YourMobileGuide. Download the app to take advantage of the free city map, exclusive discounts, and self-guided tours authored by local experts.

With a range of fascinating self-guided audio tours, YourMobileGuide has you prepared for your trip to Istanbul. The Best of Istanbul Tour is an excellent option for first-time visitors since it takes you to some of the city’s most well-known and significant landmarks, such as the Basilica Cistern.

Istanbul’s renowned underground Basilica Cistern

Istanbul's renowned underground Basilica Cistern

Despite this, the Basilica Cistern seems incredibly well-known today, drawing tourists from all over the world. However, it was less prominent in the past than it was shortly before the Ottoman Empire took over the city. The cistern proved destroyed and closed, and the city’s authorities somehow forgot about it until early in 1545, when a French scholar named Petrus Gyllius discovered this masterpiece. Later, the villagers informed him they could catch fish from it, and some almost swore they could obtain water from it by lowering buckets to their basement levels. After that, Petrus entered the neighborhood’s basement levels and into this cistern. The cistern proved eventually renovated to retain water. Still, in any case, the Ottoman Empire’s authorities paid little heed to this finding, and it turned out to be a rubbish dump.

Due to its lack of usage for water, the cistern had some lights and decorations added in 1980 to make it a tourist attraction and museum.

Similar to previous cisterns, the Basilica Cistern proved built extremely complexly and solved a highly bothersome issue for people at the time. Even two millennia after several wars and earthquakes, the Basilica Cistern remains a powerful testament to how the Byzantine Empire provided for its people and the innovations it brought to the globe.

You will become astounded by the enormity of this cistern when you go inside. Just picture the enormous space, which can accommodate over two hundred people, below ground when water was previously there. Indeed, there’s still some water visible, and fish are still swimming in it.

The Basilica Cistern is 159 meters from the Hagia Sophia Museum in Sultan Ahmet Square.


The Basilica Cistern, called the “Sunken Palace,” is a fascinating underground water storage facility in Istanbul. After modifications and seismic fortification, it reopened in July 2022. Explore this 1500-year-old site with two recognizable Medusa heads, mysterious reflections in the lake, and 336 marble columns. There is also a “Well of Tears” in the cistern, presumably a memorial to the enslaved people who constructed it. The area is a well-liked place for musical performances and a background for films due to its acoustics. The historical importance of the cistern stems from the 6th-century reign of Emperor Justinian I. With regular operating hours of 9:00 to 19:00, Sultan Ahmed Square and Hagia Sophia are convenient locations.


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