Built during the reign of Byzantine Emperor Justinian I, the Basilica Cistern was designed to reserve water for the Imperial Palace and its surrounding areas. It attracts attention from all over the world, especially for the Basilica Cistern Medusa Heads, which adds an air of mystery and intrigue to the attraction.
The Cistern has 336 columns and 2 Medusa Heads, supporting the water reserve. One of the Gorgon monster’s heads is positioned sideways while the other is placed upside down. It was believed that they were placed inside the Cistern to protect the water reserve.
In the 38 years that it took to build the Basilica Cistern, 7000 slaves worked on it and hundreds passed away. The ‘Weeping Column’ is erected as a tribute to these workers, with peacocks, branches, tear reliefs, and carvings on it. It is towards the northwest side of the Cistern.
When exploring the ancient water reserve, you have to descend a staircase with 52 steps to explore the illuminated 336 columns of the Basilica Cistern. Due to its rising columns, long arches, and impressive build, the public has renamed it the ‘Basilica Palace.’
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.
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.
The Basilica Cistern Medusa Heads are placed underneath two of the columns to support the structures. It is believed to have been a part of an ancient Roman building.
You do not have to book separate tickets to see the Medusa Heads. You can purchase Basilica Cistern tickets and explore the columns to get up close with the Medusa Heads.
Yes, you can see the Medusa Heads with your Basilica Cistern tickets.
It is believed that an architect named Tralles from the Byzantine era planned the Basilica Cistern. Emperor Justinian commissioned the cistern, and 7000 slaves worked on it for around 38 years to complete the construction.
The Medusa Heads are believed to have been repurposed from an ancient Roman building. They were installed in the 6th century AD during the construction of the Basilica Cistern.
Two Medusa heads are positioned below columns on the northwest side of the Basilica Cistern. It is not exactly known from where these structures were sourced, but most people believe them to be a part of an ancient Roman building.
You can explore the Basilica Cistern anytime between 9 AM and 7 PM. It is open throughout the week.
While there is no dress code to enter the Basilica Cistern since the columns and arches remain wet, it is best to wear covered shoes with a good grip to prevent any accidents.
The Basilica Cistern is near the Hagia Sophia in the Sultanahmet Square. You can take the F1 funicular to reach the Kabastas station. Take tram T1 from the Kabastas station to reach Sultanahmet Square, 7 stops away. The Cistern is a short 2-minute walk from the Square.
You can see around 336 columns, 2 Medusa Heads, and several arches inside the Basilica Cistern. It is said that one of the columns, which has peacock and leafy carvings, was erected in memory of the 7000 slaves, who worked hard to build the cistern. Many lost their lives during the 38-year construction period.
No, you need to buy Basilica Cistern tickets to explore the attraction. You can invest in skip-the-line tickets that come with an audio guide to avoid standing in long lines and make your experience a more informative one.