Basilica Cistern promises its visitors a mysterious journey back to ancient times. The 1500-year-old cistern is located underground and is dated to the Byzantine period.
Basilica Cistern underwent a major renovation between 2015 and 2022. If you visited the cistern before 2015, you will have a completely different experience with the walking paths closer to the ground and the added modern works of art.
You can read about the history of the Basilica Cistern in this article. The Basilica Cistern entrance fee and opening hours are also noted. The ticket price of the cistern was last revised in January 2024 and has not changed since then.
If you want to get fast access to the cistern with a guided group, you can buy Basilica Cistern skip-the-line tickets from this link. These online tickets can save you from waiting at the ticket booths during the spring and summer months.
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History of the Basilica Cistern
The history of Basilica Cistern dates back to the 6th century. Built by Justinian, the most famous ruler of the Byzantine Empire, the cistern was one of Constantinople’s most important water resources.
The Historical Peninsula on which Constantinople was founded was a place known for its scarcity of water resources. Lack of water became a major problem as the city’s population grew.
Many cisterns were built in the city to store the water coming from this aqueduct. The largest of these was the Basilica Cistern, and it carried water to monumental structures such as Hagia Sophia and the Great Palace.
The Basilica Cistern takes its name from the Stoa Basilica, the public square under which it was built. 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.
1. Byzantine Cisterns in Istanbul
Most of the Byzantine cisterns in Istanbul are found in and around Sultanahmet. Theodosius Cistern, Cistern of Philoxenos and Basilica Cistern can be visited as museums. In addition, there is the Sarnic (Cistern) Restaurant and the Nakilbent Cistern located under a carpet store.
There are many articles on this website for those who want to trace the Byzantine sites in Istanbul. One of these is the article on Byzantine cisterns in Istanbul. In this article, you can find detailed information about some of the cisterns that are open to touristic visits in Istanbul.
2. Rediscovery of the Cistern
It is hard to believe that such a distinctive structure could be forgotten for a long time. However, after the Ottomans conquered the city in 1453, the cistern was lost for a long time.
The Ottomans repaired the Valens Aqueduct and continued to bring water to the city through the Roman system. However, they did not use the cisterns. They connected the water pipes to the public fountains they built on the streets and provided water in this way.
3. Famous Movies Filmed in the Cistern
Unforgettable scenes of many famous movies were filmed in Basilica Cistern. The first production to film the Cistern was In 1963, From Russia With Love starring Sean Connery.
The final scene of the movie Inferno, based on Dan Brown’s novel, was also shot at Basilica Cistern. The famous actor Tom Hanks played the leading role of this movie, which was shot in 2016.
4. Medusa Heads in the Cistern
The Medusa Heads hidden in the farthest corner of the cistern will be the most interesting part of your visit. Since most of the columns in the cistern are taken from other structures, their lengths are different. For this reason, you will see stone blocks of various sizes under each.
The largest of these stone blocks are placed under the two short columns at the end of the cistern. The face of Medusa, a mythological creature, is engraved on these giant blocks, which cannot be noticed at first sight.
You will see that one of these Medusa Heads is placed sideways and the other is placed upside down. Many historians consider this to be due to the superstitions of Byzantine society.
Medusa has been a powerful figure since ancient times because it is a monster that turns people into stone. They didn’t want to face her, even if she was going to be submerged in a cistern.
Basilica Cistern Entrance Fee 2024
Basilica Cistern entrance fee is 600 Turkish Lira per person as of 2024. Museum Pass Istanbul is not valid in the museum. You can pay by credit card or Turkish lira at the box office. The information on the ticket price was last updated on January 4, 2024.
It should also be noted that as of 2024, there is a new practice in the Basilica Cistern called “The Night Shift”. While The Cistern can be visited at normal prices until 18:30, it offers special events between 19:30 and 22:00 and the ticket price is 1000 TL.
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 Miniaturk Museum the Panorama 1453 Museum and the Tekfur Palace Museum respectively.
Basilica Cistern Skip-The-Line Tickets 2024
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 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.
Those with skip-the-line tickets meet with their guide at the entrance and enter the museum as a group. Thus, you will listen to the history of the cistern from the professional tour guide. You can buy Basilica Cistern skip-the-line tickets from this link here.
Basilica Cistern Opening Hours 2024
Basilica Cistern opening hours are between 09:00 in the morning and 18:30 in the evening. The cistern is open to visitors every day of the week. Information on visiting hours was last updated on January 4, 2024.
It should also be noted that the Basilica Cistern remains open for 3 more hours between 19:30 and 22:00 with a different price (1000 TL per person). This practice is called The Night Shift and special music concerts and events take place in the cistern.
How to Get to The Cistern?
Basilica Cistern is located in the heart of Sultanahmet, Istanbul’s most touristic district. For this reason, it is very easy to reach the museum. You can walk from distinctive structures such as Hagia Sophia or Blue Mosque to the cistern.
In order to get to the Cistern from Taksim Square, you must first go to Kabatas with Funicular F1. If you take Tram T1 from Kabatas Tram Station, you can reach Sultanahmet Tram Station in 15 minutes.
It will take only a few minutes to walk from Sultanahmet Tram Station to the cistern. The Theodosius Cistern, another Byzantine cistern serving as a museum, is also located very close. You can get there on foot from the same tram stop.
Basilica Cistern is among my favorite historical monuments as a local guide. A marvel of Roman architecture and engineering, the cistern supplied water to Constantinople for close to a millennium.
After visiting historical monuments such as the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, you will feel like you have traveled to another world when you go down to the Basilica Cistern. Because the atmosphere of the cistern is so fascinating.
The only bad thing about the cistern is the long queues in front of it. You can buy skip-the-line tickets for the Basilica Cistern from this link and discover this unique historical monument by joining a guided group.
Written by Serhat Engul