Basilica Cistern Tickets
Tickets
English
EUR

Basilica Cistern Medusa Heads: A Glimpse into the Ancient World of Greek and Roman Artifacts

Contents

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.  

Quick Facts About the Basilica Cistern

Quick Facts About the Basilica Cistern
  • Official Name: Yerebatan Sarnici
  • Location: Alemdar, Yerebatan Cd. 1/3, 34110 Sultanahmet Fatih, Istanbul, Turkey
  • Nearest Landmark: Hagia Sophia
  • Date of Opening: 1987
  • Timings: 9 AM to 7 PM
  • Commissioned By: Emperor Justinian in 532 AD after the Nika Riots
  • Architect: Tralles
  • Built By: Around 7000 slaves were employed by the Byzantine rulers
  • Architectural Style: Rectangular plan with beveled squares and huge marble columns
  • UNESCO World Heritage Site: Declared to be “one of the most historical places in Istanbul”
  • Number of Visitors Per Year: 2.2 million
  • Function: Reserve water for the Imperial Palace and surrounding areas in Constantinople

Why Visit the Basilica Cistern Medusa Heads?

Why Visit the Basilica Cistern Medusa Heads?
  • Historical Significance: The Basilica Cistern is a remarkable example of Byzantine architecture and engineering.  The Medusa Heads add an intriguing historical element to the attraction. 
  • Mystical Charm: It is not known why the Basilica Medusa Heads are positioned upside down and sideways, however, their angles create an eerie atmosphere, which adds to the overall charm of the Cistern. 
  • Ancient Greek Relics: The Medusa heads are one of the few surviving examples of ancient Greek sculpture in Istanbul, and they are unlike anything else you will see in the city.
  • Stunning Visual Experience: The dimly lit cistern with its rows of columns and reflections on the water creates a stunning visual experience that is truly unforgettable. The Medusa heads are just one of the many elements that add to the beauty of this ancient site.

What’s Inside the Basilica Cistern

Medusa Heads Inside the Basilica Cistern

Medusa Heads

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. 

Weeping Column Inside the Basilica Cistern

Weeping Column

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.

Stone Staircase Inside the Basilica Cistern

Stone Staircase

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.’

Basilica Cistern History

Basilica Cistern History

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. 

Basilica Cistern History

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. 

Basilica Cistern Today

Today, the Basilica Cistern is one of Istanbul's most popular tourist attractions. It is composed of a vast network of columns and arches, creating a truly unique atmosphere. One of the most fascinating features of the Basilica Cistern is the presence of two Medusa heads, which are located at the base of two of the columns. These heads are believed to have been added during the Byzantine era and were likely recycled from an ancient Roman building.

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.

Book 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
More details
Combo: Basilica Cistern + Blue Mosque + Hagia Sophia Guided Tour Tickets
Free Cancellation
Extended Validity
Instant Confirmation
Mobile Ticket
4 hr.
More details
Combo: Hagia Sophia + Topkapi Palace + Basilica Cistern Guided Tours Tickets
Free Cancellation
Instant Confirmation
Mobile Ticket
Flexible Duration
Audio Guide
More details
Combo: Topkapi Palace + Basilica Cistern + Blue Mosque + Hagia Sophia Guided Tour Tickets
Free Cancellation
Extended Validity
Instant Confirmation
Mobile Ticket
48 hr.
More details
Headout Saver: 3-Day Skip-the-Line Tickets to Top Istanbul Attractions
Free Cancellation
Instant Confirmation
Mobile Ticket
Flexible Duration
Guided Tour
More details

Frequently Asked Questions About Basilica Cistern Medusa Heads

What are the Basilica Cistern Medusa Heads?

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.

Where can I buy tickets to see the Basilica Cistern Medusa Heads?

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.

Can I visit the Medusa Heads with Basilica Cistern tickets?

Yes, you can see the Medusa Heads with your Basilica Cistern tickets

Who designed the Basilica Cistern Medusa Heads?

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. 

When were the Basilica Cistern Medusa Heads built?

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. 

Where are the Basilica Cistern Medusa Heads located?

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. 

What are the timings of the Basilica Cistern?

You can explore the Basilica Cistern anytime between 9 AM and 7 PM. It is open throughout the week. 

Do I have to follow a dress code to enter the Basilica Cistern?

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.

How can I get to the Basilica Cistern?

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.

What can I see inside the Basilica Cistern?

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. 

Can I just walk into the Basilica Cistern?

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.