The Cisterna Basilica, also known as the Basilica Cistern, is one of Istanbul’s hidden gems. Located underground in the historic Sultanahmet district, this ancient water storage system is a must-see for travelers who are interested in history and architecture. In this article, we’ll explore the history of the Cisterna Basilica, its unique features, and how to visit it.

History of Cisterna Basilica

The Cisterna Basilica was built in the 6th century during the reign of Byzantine Emperor Justinian I. It was designed to store water for the Great Palace of Constantinople, which was located nearby. The cistern was constructed using columns and other materials from older buildings, including Roman ruins.

During the Ottoman period, the Cisterna Basilica was largely forgotten and was used for various purposes, including as a dumping ground and a storage area for charcoal. It wasn’t until the 16th century that the cistern was rediscovered and restored by the Ottoman authorities.

In the early 20th century, the cistern was used as a location for films and TV shows, including the James Bond film “From Russia with Love”. Today, the Cistern is open to the public and is one of Istanbul’s most popular tourist attractions.

Architecture and Features

The Cisterna Basilica is an impressive feat of engineering and architecture.

The cistern is approximately 140 meters long and 70 meters wide, with a capacity of 80,000 cubic meters of water. It is supported by 336 columns, which are arranged in 12 rows of 28 columns each.

The columns are made of various materials, including marble, granite, and porphyry. Some of the columns have decorative carvings, such as the Medusa heads that are located at the base of two columns. These heads are believed to have been brought from a nearby temple and were used as bases for the columns.

One of the most interesting features of the Cisterna Basilica is the lighting. The cistern is illuminated by soft, atmospheric lighting, which creates an eerie and mysterious atmosphere. The lighting also highlights the columns and other features of the cistern, making it a photographer’s dream.

Visiting the Cisterna Basilica

The Cisterna Basilica is located in the Sultanahmet district of Istanbul, near other popular tourist attractions such as the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque. The cistern is open to the public seven days a week, from 9 am to 5:30 pm.

When visiting the Cisterna Basilica, it’s important to dress appropriately. The cistern is located underground and can be damp and chilly, so it’s a good idea to wear layers. Comfortable shoes are also recommended, as the ground can be slippery.

Tickets for the Cisterna Basilica can be purchased at the entrance. The cost is currently 300 Turkish lira (approximately $15 USD) per person. Audio guides are available in several languages, including English.

When entering the cistern, visitors will descend a staircase and walk along a wooden walkway that is suspended above the water. The walkway leads visitors through the columns and other features of the cistern, and there are several areas where visitors can stop and take photos.


The Cisterna Basilica is a hidden gem in Istanbul that is well worth a visit. Its impressive architecture and unique features make it a must-see for travelers who are interested in history and architecture. So, if you’re planning a trip to Istanbul, make sure to add the Cisterna Basilica to your itinerary.

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