Istanbul E-pass includes Basilica Cistern Tour with English speaking Professional Guide. For details, please check "Hours & Meeting"
Basilica Cistern Istanbul
It is located in the heart of the historic city center. It is the giant cistern in the historical city of Istanbul. The Cistern is hosting 336 columns. The function of this outstanding construction was to enable drinking water for Hagia Sophia. Great Palace of Palatium Magnum and fountains and baths are located throughout the city.
What time does Basilica Cistern open?
The Basilica Cistern is open throughout the week.
Summer Period: 09:00 - 19:00 (Last entrance is at 18:00)
Winter Period: 09:00 - 18:00 (Last entrance is at 17:00)
How much is Basilica Cistern?
The entrance fee is 190 Turkish Liras. You can get a ticket from the counters and may wait in line for around 30 minutes. Guided tours with admission are free with Istanbul E-pass.
Where is the Basilica Cistern located?
It is located in the heart of the Old City Square of Istanbul. 100 meters away from the Hagia Sophia.
From Old City Hotels; You can get the T1 Tram to the 'Sultanahmet' stop, which is 5 minutes walking distance.
From Taksim Hotels; Take a F1 funicular line to Kabatas and get T1 Tram to Sultanahmet.
From Sultanahmet Hotels; It is within walking distance from Sultanahmet hotels.
How long does it take to visit Cistern, and What is the best time to visit?
Visiting the Cistern will take around 15 minutes if you visit by yourself. Guided tours generally take approximately 25-30 minutes. It is dark and has narrow corridors; it is better to see Cistern while not crowded. Around 09:00 to 10:00 am, quieter in the summertime.
Basilica Cistern History
This cistern is an excellent example of underground water storage. Emperor Justinian I. (527-565) ordered the construction in the year 532 AD. There are three main groups of cisterns in Istanbul: overground, underground, and open-air cisterns.
The year 532 AD is a turning point in the history of the Eastern Roman Empire. One of the biggest riots of the Empire, the Nika Riot, took place this year. One of the results of this riot was the destruction of significant buildings in the city. Hagia Sophia, Basilica Cistern, Hippodrome, and Palatium Magnum were amongst the buildings destructed. Right after the riot, Emperor Justinian I. gave an order for renovating or rebuilding the city. This order was directing a majority of the buildings that were having critical importance to the city.
There is no record of the probable existence of a cistern in the exact location. Thinking this was the center of the city, some should be, but we don't know where. The date was recorded as 532 AD, which is the same year of the Nika Revolt and 3rd Hagia Sophia.
The logistics of construction in 6th AD were utterly different from today. The hardest part of construction would be carving 336 columns that are carrying the roof today. But the easiest solution to this matter would be using manpower or slave power. Back in the time was relatively easy for an Emperor to supply. After the order of the Emperor, many slaves went to remote sections of the Empire. They brought a lot of stones and columns from the temples. These columns and stones were dysfunctional, including 336 columns and 2 Medusa Heads.
It took less than a year time to construct this fantastic building after handling logistics. From then on, it started its essential function of itself. It was enabling clean water for the city.
Another problem of the construction was finding the columns for the building. Some of the columns were short, and some of them were long. Having long columns was not a big problem. They could cut them. But the shorter columns were a big problem. They had to find bases of the correct length for the construction. Two of the bases they found were the Medusa Heads. From the heads' style, we can think that these heads should be originating from the western side of Turkey.
Why is Medusa's Head upside down?
About this question, there are two main ideas. The first idea tells that in the 6th century AD, Christianity was the main religion. As these heads are the symbol of the previous belief, they are upside down for this reason. The second idea is more practical. Imagine you are moving a monolith stone block. Once you reach the right location for the column, you would stop. After they stopped erecting the column, they realized the head was upside down. They didn't need to correct the head because nobody is going to see that again.
Another column that is interesting to see is the crying column. The column is not crying but has the shape of teardrops. There are 2 locations in Istanbul where you can see these columns. One is the Basilica Cistern and the second is Beyazit near the Grand Bazaar. The story of the crying column here in the cistern is interesting. They say it symbolizes the tears of the slaves that worked there. The second idea is the column is crying for those who lost their lives in the construction.
Purpose of the Basilica Cistern
We know from the historical records today that there are more than 100 cisterns in Istanbul. The main target of the cisterns in the Roman Era was supplying clean water for the city. In Ottoman Era, this purpose changed.
Role of the Basilica Cistern In the Ottoman Era
According to religious reasons, the function of the cisterns was different over time. In Islam and Judaism, the water should not wait in storage and should always flow. If the water stays stagnant, it is a reason for the people to think the water is dirty in Islam and Judaism. Because of this reason, people abandoned many cisterns. Even some people converted the cisterns to workshops. Many of the cisterns were still having a different function during the Ottoman Era. Because of that, many of the cisterns today are still visible.
Basilica Cistern in Hollywood Movies
This was the place for several famous films, including several Hollywood productions. One of the most famous is From Russia with Love from the year 1963. Being the second James Bond film, most of the film from Russia with Love took place in Istanbul. It stars Sean Connery and Daniela Bianchi. This film is still considered to be one of the best James Bond films.
Based on the book of Dan Brown, Inferno was another film in which the Basilica Cistern took place. The cistern was the final place for placing the virus that would be a significant threat to humanity.
The Final Word
The cistern has an unusual history that attracts travelers across the globe to experience it in real. Who would not want to walk on raised wooden platforms to feel water dripping from the arched ceilings giving the essence of historical architecture? If you have a passion for photography, you will love the medusa-head column bases. Wait no more to kill your summer’s heat and have a majestic experience while visiting the Basilica Cistern with Istanbul E-pass.