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Basilica Cistern: A Journey Through Istanbul’s Ancient Past



Basilica Cistern

The Basilica Cistern, also known as Yerebatan Sarnıcı in Turkish, is a magnificent underground cistern located in the heart of Istanbul, Turkey. Built in the 6th century during the Byzantine era, it is one of the most unique and awe-inspiring structures in the city, attracting tourists and history buffs from all around the world. In this article, we will take a deep dive into the history of Basilica Cistern , architecture, and cultural significance of the Basilica Cistern, exploring its secrets and hidden treasures along the way.

The History of Basilica Cistern: A Journey through Time

The Basilica Cistern has a long and fascinating history that spans over a millennium. It was built in 532 AD by the Byzantine Emperor Justinian I as a water filtration system for the city’s palaces and buildings. The cistern was constructed on the site of an ancient basilica, which is why it is called the Basilica Cistern. It is believed that the cistern was built in just a few months by thousands of slaves who were brought from all over the empire to work on the project.

The cistern was used for centuries to provide water to the city’s inhabitants and was considered a vital source of water during times of war and drought. In the Ottoman era, the cistern was rediscovered and used as a water storage facility until the 20th century. Today, the cistern is a popular tourist attraction and a testament to Istanbul’s rich cultural heritage.

The Architecture of Basilica Cistern: A Masterpiece of Engineering

The Basilica Cistern is a true masterpiece of engineering and architecture. The cistern is over 140 meters long and 70 meters wide, with a capacity of over 80,000 cubic meters of water. It is supported by 336 marble columns, each standing 9 meters tall, arranged in 12 rows of 28 columns. The columns are of different designs and styles, reflecting the cultural diversity of the Byzantine era.

One of the most remarkable features of the cistern is the two Medusa heads located at the base of two of the columns. The origin of these heads is unknown, but they are believed to have been brought from a pagan temple and placed in the cistern as a symbol of the triumph of Christianity over paganism.

The Cultural Significance of Basilica Cistern: A Window into Istanbul’s Past

The Basilica Cistern is not only a magnificent engineering feat but also a window into Istanbul’s rich cultural past. The cistern has been the inspiration for many works of art and literature, including Dan Brown’s famous novel Inferno. The cistern has also been used as a filming location for many movies and TV shows, including the James Bond film From Russia with Love.

The cistern is also a popular destination for cultural events and exhibitions, showcasing Istanbul’s vibrant artistic scene. One such event is the Istanbul Biennial, an international art exhibition that takes place every two years in different venues across the city.

Exploring the Secrets and Hidden Treasures of Basilica Cistern

The Basilica Cistern is not just a static structure but a living piece of history that reveals its secrets and hidden treasures to those who are willing to explore. One of the most fascinating hidden treasures of the cistern is the upside-down Medusa head, located in the northwest corner of the cistern. The head is placed upside down, as if it was being punished for its evil gaze, and is surrounded by mystical and eerie vibes.

Another hidden treasure of the cistern is the secret passage that leads

Another hidden treasure of the cistern is the secret passage that leads to the Binbirdirek Cistern, a smaller and less visited cistern located nearby. The passage is only accessible to visitors who join a special guided tour, and it offers a unique opportunity to explore a lesser-known but equally impressive structure.

Visitors can also enjoy the atmospheric ambiance of the cistern, which is enhanced by the dim lighting and the sound of dripping water. The cistern’s unique acoustics have made it a popular venue for music concerts and performances, adding another layer of cultural significance to this ancient structure.


The Basilica Cistern is a true wonder of the ancient world and a must-visit destination for anyone interested in history, architecture, and culture. Its unique design, engineering, and cultural significance make it a true masterpiece that has stood the test of time for over a millennium. Whether you’re exploring Istanbul’s past or experiencing its vibrant present, the Basilica Cistern is an unforgettable journey through time and space.

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