Basilica Cistern; More Attractive! Newly Reborn!! - Travel Turkey 2023

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More Attractive! Newly Reborn Basilica Cistern

Basilica Cistern is the largest existing reservoir of the Eastern Roman Empire that lies beneath the city of Istanbul. As one of the most histrical places of Turkey inscribed as UNESCO’s  World Heritage, the Basilica Cistern is in the top list as well as Topkapi Palace and Hagia Sopia.

Let's focus on what is changed after renovation, What must to see there as well as History of Basilica Cistern!!

Long Awaited re-opening

Basilica Cistern was closed for its restoretion and renovation for artwork installation since 2017. Now it welcomes all tourists everyday of the week between 9:00 in the morning and 19:00 in the evening from the entrance located across the Street from Hagia Sopia. The renovation includes remodel of the entrance hall, installing new lighting system, several new sculptures that rises from the water and a new pathway above the water to bring visiters closer to its surface. By strengthing the buildling, now it is much safer than before against earthquacks. After all, its new exhibition themed ‟light” will be the highlight for all visitors. This light performance definitely will produce Basilica Cistern more mysterious and sacred atmosphere!!

What to see at Basilica Cistern


After you enter to Basilica Cistern, the first thing that impresses you is the view of marble columns. Total of 336 columns rised out from water seem like continuing forever. Each height is 9 m, and there are 12 columns in one row. Total of 28 rows are spreading just in front of you. Most of them are cylindrical shape of Ionic or Corinthian styles and support this 6th century’s construction. It is no exageration to call Basilica Cistern as “undergraund Palace”. You will see and understand it when you stand at entrance of the cistern!! With new lighting performance, you can feel more mysterious and sacred atmosphere.

Two Medusa Heads

You can see the Roman masterpieces at the nothwest edge of the cistern; Two medusa heads. They are used under two columns. One positions upside down, and the other one places sideway. The reason of the placement of medusa heads as a base is veiled in mystery. According to some rumors inspired by Greek methology, Medusa had the power to gorgonising people who looked at her. When the cistern was built in 6th centurery, it was the custum to use Gorgone paintings and sculptures for the purpose of protecting big constructions and special venues. It is also believed that placing it in the opposite way prevents visitors from Medusa’s petrifying powers.

Column of Tears

There is one column separated from another called as the Weeping Column. This column is carved in  the shape of eyes with tears and it is wet somehow unlike the other columns. It just looks like crying…  The rumor says that it was made for a honor of slaves who worked for this great achievement. As well as the use of two medusa's heads, this cring column is also another mystery of Basilica Cistern. 

History of Basilica Cistern

Basilica Cistern was constructed in 532 by the order of Emperor Justinian I, the eastern Roman empire, who made Hagia Sophia as well, to store water to meet the needs of the Great Palace and people in the city. It is said  that the construction of the cistern took 38 years and the fresh water was supplied from 19km away from the city. During the Ottoman period, the cistern fell into disuse because of the preferance of running water according to archaeologists. This great achievement was forgotten for centuries until the French scholar Petrus Gyllius discovered it in 1545. He decided to explore the legends of underground temples after he heard about strange stories from the locals drawing up fresh water and even fishing from holes in their cellars.

In 1985, Basilica Cistern was registerd UNESCO World Heritage as a part of Historical areas of Istanbul, and in 1987 opened to the public after cleaning and restoring.


You can visit Basilica Cistern through our tours or add to your package as an optional;

Istanbul old city tour


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