Exploring the Basilica Cistern in Istanbul

The 6th-century Basilica Cistern in Istanbul was a monumental reservoir commissioned by Emperor Justinian I to supply water to the Great Palace of Constantinople. A masterpiece of Byzantine architecture, it showcases Istanbul’s rich and centuries-...

Also Known As

Yerebatan Sarnıcı, Sunken Palace, Subterranean Palace

Founded On


Founded By

Emperor Justinian

Basilica CisternBasilica Cistern

Quick information


2 hours






30-60 mins (Peak), 0-30 mins (Off Peak)


0-30 mins (Peak), 0-30 mins (Off Peak)

Plan your visit

Did you know?

The Basilica Cistern is named after the large public square called Stoa Basilica, which was located above it at the surface level.

According to historical accounts, it is believed that about 7,000 slaves worked on the construction of the Basilica Cistern.

The Basilica Cistern has withstood around 22 major earthquakes since it was constructed, proof of the exceptional skills of its Byzantine builders.

More insights

Book your Basilica Cistern tickets

Skip-the-Line Tickets to Basilica Cistern
Instant confirmation
Mobile ticket
Flexible duration
Audio guide
Guided tour
More details
Guided Tour of Basilica Cistern with Skip-the-Line Tickets
Free cancellation
Instant confirmation
Mobile ticket
1 hr.
Audio guide
Guided tour
More details
Combo (Save 7%): Basilica Cistern + Hagia Sophia Skip-the-Line Tickets
Instant confirmation
Mobile ticket
Flexible duration
Audio guide
More details
Combo: Basilica Cistern + Blue Mosque + Hagia Sophia Guided Tour with Skip-the-Line Tickets
Free cancellation
Extended validity
Instant confirmation
Mobile ticket
4 hr.
Guided tour
More details

Things to see inside Basilica Cistern, Turkey.

Medusa Heads at the Basilica Cistern

Medusa Heads

The Basilica Cistern has two Medusa heads, one placed sideways and the other upside down. The structures have been repurposed from older relics and add an air of grandeur and mystery to the water palace. 

Weeping Column at the Basilica Cistern

Weeping Column

It is believed that in the 38 years that it took to build the cistern, several hundred slaves died. The cistern has a ‘Weeping Column’, engraved with peacocks, drooping branches, and tree leaves to honor their memory. 

Stone Staircase at the Basilica Cistern

Stone Staircase

When you enter the Basilica Cistern, you have to descend a 52-step stone ladder to get to the marble columns and Medusa heads. As you descend the steps, you will slowly see the columns and the water rising into view. 

Marble Columns at the Basilica Cistern

Marble Columns

One of the biggest highlights of the Basilica Cistern museum is its 336 marble columns, which stand tall and support the roof. These columns showcase different styles and carvings, adding to the architectural beauty of the water palace. 

Wooden Walkways at the Basilica Cistern

Wooden Walkways

When exploring the Basilica Cistern, you have to use the wooden walkways to get up close to the chambers and columns. These walkways provide a convenient and safe way to explore the architectural beauty of the underground cistern. 

Reflective Waters at the Basilica Cistern

Reflective Waters

Take in the tranquil sight of the water-filled cistern. The mirror-like reflections make you ponder on the engineering marvel, that is the cistern, which once supplied water to the Great Palace of Constantinople.

Basilica Cistern history

History of Basilica Cistern

The Byzantine Era

The Basilica Cistern was constructed during the reign of Emperor Justinian in the 6th century. It supplied water to the Great Palace and the surrounding buildings and was capable of storing around 100,000 tons of water. The structure was planned by the architect Tralles. 7000 slaves were responsible for repurposing and erecting the 336 columns seen today. 

History of Basilica Cistern

The Ottoman Period

During Ottoman rule in Turkey, the Basilica Cistern supplied water to the Topkapi Palace and the Imperial Harem. However, with the Empire’s disintegration, it fell into disuse until Dutch traveler, Petrus Gyllius restored the facility and placed lights to illuminate the columns and interiors. It was opened to the public in 1987. 

Who built Basilica Cistern?

The Basilica Cistern was commissioned by Emperor Justinian I in the 6th century AD to supply water to the Great Palace of Constantinople. It was built underground, beneath the city's surface, and involved skilled craftsmen, who used innovative techniques to complete its construction.

Basilica Cistern architecture

Architecture of Basilica Cistern

Basilica Cistern today

Today, the Basilica Cistern is one of Istanbul's most popular tourist attractions. Over the years, the cistern has undergone various renovations and restorations to ensure its continued preservation. Today, visitors can walk along a raised platform that leads them through the dimly lit space, allowing them to see the Medusa heads up close and appreciate the stunning visual experience that the Basilica Cistern offers.

Frequently asked questions about Basilica Cistern

What is Basilica Cistern?

The Basilica Cistern, also known as the Yerebatan Sarnici is an ancient underground water reservoir in Istanbul. It was once used to supply water to the Great Palace of Constantinople and its surrounding areas. 

Why is Basilica Cistern famous?

The Byzantine Emperor, Justinian I had commissioned the construction of the Basilica Cistern in the 6th century to ensure a smooth water supply to the palace. It features rows of marble columns and a pristine water surface. Its unique architectural design, repurposed columns from the Roman period, and presence of the Medusa Heads attract visitors from all over the world. 

What can I do at Basilica Cistern?

When exploring the Basilica Cistern, look out for its roof, lined with 336 marble columns, repurposed from the ancient Roman period. The Medusa Heads, one placed sideways, and the other upside down, add to the architectural splendor of the Sunken Water Palace. You can walk along the wooden walkways and take in the views of the reflective water surface. 

How do I get tickets to the Basilica Cistern?

We recommend you purchase Basilica Cistern tickets online in advance because it is one of the most popular attractions in Istanbul, therefore, nearly always crowded with visitors. You may also access great deals and discounts when booking tickets online. 

How much are the Basilica Cistern tickets?

Basilica Cistern tickets range from around € 24.90 to € 29. You can avail of skip-the-line benefits along with an audio guide at € 24.90. If you want an expert English tour guide to accompany you, you can book the Basilica Cistern guided tour at € 29.

Are there guided tours available at Basilica Cistern?

Yes, we recommend you book Basilica Cistern guided tours to delve deeper into Byzantine history and understand the unique architectural elements of the Yerebatan Water Palace. 

Who designed Basilica Cistern?

It is not known who exactly designed the floor plan of the Basilica Cistern. However, several architects and craftsmen came together in the 6th century under the guidance of Emperor Justinian I to build the Basilica Cistern. While their names have not been recorded in historical sources, their contribution created an impressive underground water storage system.

When was Basilica Cistern built?

Byzantine Emperor Justinian I commissioned the construction of the Basilica Cistern in the 6th century AD. The construction took place between 532 and 542 AD under his rule. Around 7000 slaves were involved in this cistern’s construction. 

Where is Basilica Cistern located?

The Basilica Cistern is situated in the Sultanahmet district of Istanbul. It is located in Alemdar, Yerebatan Cd. 1/3, 34110 Fatih, Turkey.

What are the Basilica Cistern timings?

The Basilica Cistern is open every day from 9 AM to 7  PM throughout the year. 

What is there to see and do in the Basilica Cistern?

The 336 marble columns along the roof of the cistern, the Medusa Heads, the Weeping Column, and the tranquil water surface are some of the most impressive highlights inside the Basilica Cistern. You can walk along the wooden walkways and take in these sights. 

Is the Basilica Cistern wheelchair accessible?

The Basilica Cistern has elevators to help visitors with limited mobility navigate the space. However, there is no wheelchair facility on the site. If you need strollers or wheelchairs, you have to bring them along with you.

Is photography allowed at the Basilica Cistern?

You can click pictures on your mobile phone inside the Basilica Cistern. However, avoid using tripods or other commercial equipment, as it may disturb other visitors.

What other attractions are near the Basilica Cistern?

The Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque, and Galata Tower are some of the most popular attractions in Sultanahmet Square. You must plan a day trip and visit all these nearby attractions after exploring the Basilica Cistern.