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Basilica Cistern

Last updated: 30 March, 2024

Dating from the reign of Byzantine Emperor Justinian I in the 6th century, this ‘Underground Palace’ is the largest of several hundred ancient cisterns (reservoirs) built beneath Istanbul to provide water to the palaces of the Ottoman emperors. Illuminated, and decorated with marble columns and carved capitals from earlier churches, it’s a magical sight.   

The name derives from a great Basilica – the Stoa Basilica – that once stood here, built between the 3rd and 4th centuries during the Early Roman Age.

Don’t miss

Look out for the giant head of Medusa (you can’t miss it, really). This snake-headed Gorgona – a female monsters of the underworld in Greek mythology – would reportedly turn any who look at her into stone. It’s thought the statue was placed here to protect the structure – but no-one knows for sure.

Logistics

Price from: £3
Minimum age: Any
Age suitable: 13+
When: All year around

Getting there & doing it

Take the tram to the Sultanahmet station; it’s a short walk from there (just across from the Hagia Sophia).

Go as part organised guided tour. There’s little information on site, and expert-led guides will give you the history and insights you need to understand what you’re seeing.

There are quite a few stairs, and it can be slippery and dark, so wear shoes with some grip. On a hot summer’s day, the cistern is lovely and cool with its classical music and swimming carp (there to keep it clean).

When to do it

It’s open all year round, seven days a week.

Who to go with: organised tours

1

Our selection of the best Viator tours of this attraction or activity

Private Half-day Tour: Imperial Istanbul - Hagia Sophia, Basilica Cistern and Grand Bazaar

  • Istanbul

Private Half-day Tour: Imperial Istanbul - Hagia Sophia, Basilica Cistern and Grand Bazaar

Viator

Discover Imperial Istanbul on this private half-day sightseeing tour. Visit Hagia Sophia, which is today one of the most magnificent museums in the world and look for a bargain at the Grand Bazaar. Explore the Basillica Cistern, 500 feet underground this ancient cistern not only has historical importance to Istanbul but has also been featured in James Bond.

Price $250

Min age 0

Rating 4.41 / 5 [24 ratings]

Tour supplied by:

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Destination guides

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Destination guides including or relevant to this experience

Istanbul

  • Marmara Region, Turkey

Large illuminated mosque at night with sea in background

Destination guide

Exotic, inexhaustible and dynamic – East meets West head-on in this mesmerising city metropolis, famed for its extraordinarily rich history, superb food and shopping, and mind-blowingly magnificent, over-sized mosques.