Underground Basilica Cistern
Istanbul Basilica Cistern Entrance Fee, Opening Hours and Tickets
Basilica Cistern, also known as the “Sunken Palace” in Turkey. Because the cistern gives the impression of a beautiful palace buried underground. Basilica Cistern is just one of the hundreds of cisterns under Istanbul. It was built to meet the water needs of the Great Palace of the Byzantine emperors.
The building was restored in 1987 after the removal of several hundred years’ worth of mud and rubbish. This unique historical monument is one of the most visited museums in Istanbul today.
Byzantine Cisterns in Istanbul
Today, under the city of Istanbul, there are hundreds of large and small Byzantine cisterns. Since Constantinople had been under siege dozens of times, such a solution was found to meet the water needs of the city.
The cisterns, which have been turned into museums, promise a mysterious experience for visitors to the city. Nowadays, only two Byzantine cisterns are open to visitors. These are the Theodosius Cistern (Serefiye Sarnici) and the Basilica Cistern. There is also a Cistern of Philoxenos (Binbirdirek Sarnici) which is not open to visitors for the time being.
The grandest of all is the Basilica Cistern so called because it lay beneath the Stoa Basilica, a grand Byzantine public square. The ceiling of the cistern is supported by 336 reused columns from the ancient Greek period. Cistern measuring 138 meters long and 65 meters wide. It covers nearly 1000 square meters.
Fast Track Entry to Basilica Cistern
The 7-month period from April to November is Istanbul’s high tourism season. During this period, there is a long ticket queue in front of Hagia Sophia, Topkapi Palace and Basilica Cistern.
It is possible to skip the ticket line at Hagia Sophia and Topkapi Palace by taking the Museum Pass. However, Museum Pass Istanbul is not valid for entrance to the Basilica Cistern. For this reason, I recommend you to buy fast track guided tour ticket for the Basilica Cistern
Those who have skip-the-line tickets meet with their guides at the door and enter with the group. So you don’t wait in line and listen to the history of the Byzantine cistern from a professional. You can use this link if you want to buy an online entry ticket to the Basilica Cistern.
Short History of Basilica Cistern in Istanbul
Sean Connery’s James Bond and Dan Brown’s Inferno
You may remember the scene in the old James Bond movie From Russia With Love when Sean Connery is rowing in a small boat through a jungle of marble columns. That scene was filmed in Basilica Cistern. The Cistern was also a part of Dan Brown’s famous novel Inferno.
Basilica Cistern was built by Byzantine Emperor Justinian (reign 527-565). The cistern stored water for the Great Palace of Eastern Roman Emperors and nearby buildings. The Ottomans used it to supply water for Topkapi Palace in short term. Then people forgot its existence.
Rediscovery of the Basilica Cistern
Lost for a hundred year, it was rediscovered in 1545 by Petrus Gyllius. The French traveller who came to Constantinople in search of Byzantine sites in Istanbul.
Petrus Gyllius noticed that local people got their water by lowering buckets through some holes, moreover fishing from the underground water. He found an entrance and then put it back on his map.
Medusa Heads in Basilica Cistern
As you move towards the bottom of the cistern, you will see that large stones are placed under the two very short columns for support. Medusa‘s face was engraved on those stones.
All columns in the cistern are from the pre-Roman period. For this reason, it belongs to the period when the people of the city had pagan belief. The Medusa was one of the important symbols of that period.
As the Byzantines were Christians, they used the materials in these pagan temples of the previous period as recycling. The columns from the early period of Istanbul were used both in the Byzantine and Ottoman periods.
Istanbul Basilica Cistern Medusa Heads
Basilica Cistern Entrance Fee 2020
Basilica Cistern entrance fee is 20 Turkish Lira per person. Children under the age of 7 is free of charge. Please note that Basilica Cistern ticket price should be paid in cash. Credit card is not used here!
Istanbul Museum Pass For Basilica Cistern?
The Istanbul Museum Pass, a product of the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, is not valid in museums run by the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality. The other museums in this category are the Theodosius Cistern, the Miniaturk Museum the Panorama 1453 Museum and the Tekfur Palace Museum respectively.
Skip The Line Basilica Cistern Tickets
In the high season (spring, summer and autumn) there are long lines at the entrance to the Basilica Cistern. Therefore, it is recommended to buy a skip the line ticket.
Online Basilica Cistern tickets sold by GetYourGuide are slightly more expensive than standard Basilica Cistern tickets. However, it provides guided tour service without waiting you in the queue for a long time.
You may browse Skip The Line Basilica Cistern Tickets from here which is really reasonable! Easy cancellation with a FULL REFUND up to 24 hours in advance.
Basilica Cistern Opening Hours 2020
Basilica Cistern is open from 09:00 am to 6:30 pm during the high season. High Season starts with 1st of April and lasts until 31st of October. The cistern is closed at 5:30 pm in the winter season.
Where is Istanbul Basilica Cistern Located?
Basilica Cistern is located in the center of Sultanahmet (Istanbul Old City). Just 5 minutes to Sultanahmet Tram Station. Within 5 minutes walking distance from the Hagia Sophia Museum.
If you want to see more useful maps, you can check Istanbul Tourist Map post.
Location of the Basilica Cistern is marked on the map
Written by Serhat Engul