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Cistern BasilicaTop 10

The Cisterna Basilica or Yerebatan Sarnici is located opposite the Hagia Sofia in the historic district of Istanbul-Sultanahmet. Emperor Justinian had the imposing building constructed in the 4th century to supply water to the Great Palace. More than 80,000 cubic metres of water could be stored in an area of 9,800 square metres. At that time, the water came from the Belgrade Forest west of Istanbul and supplied the entire imperial household.

Sunken palace

Columns of former temples protrude from the water, which is why the Cisterna Basilica is often called the “sunken palace”. The 336 columns were brought from other temples and buildings at the time and are eight metres high. The soft music, lighting and condensation dripping gently from the ceiling conjure up an almost mystical atmosphere in the impressive vault for visitors. The cistern can be explored via wooden footbridges, and numerous small fish cavort in the water. Two columns at the back of the Cisterna Basilica are particularly impressive: they are supported by inverted Medusa heads. Supposedly, the two heads were once placed there to ward off evil spirits.

Especially in the summer, when Istanbul is once again gripped by a heat wave, a visit to the Cisterna Basilica can offer a wonderful and also very impressive cooling.

In 1985, the cistern was extensively renovated and more than 50,000 tons of mud were removed.

James Bond fans will have a déja vu experience at the cistern in Istanbul, as the opening scenes of “Love Greetings from Moscow” were filmed here.

At the end of the tour, a small underground café awaits visitors, where they can once again enjoy the mystical atmosphere of the place by candlelight. The cistern is open to visitors daily from 9.00 to 17.30 hrs. Admission costs 10 Turkish liras, the equivalent of around 4 euros.

Personal tip

The Cisterna Basilica is comparatively small and in contrast to the Blue Mosque or Hagia Sofia it can hardly compete with the many tourists. In order to avoid long waiting times, you should either venture a visit very early or from the late afternoon.

More Info

AdresseAlemdar, Yerebatan Cd. 1/3, 34110 Fatih/İstanbul, Türkei
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