Basilica Cistern is among the most visited museums in Istanbul. In this article, you can find updated information about the Basilica Cistern entrance fee and opening hours. In addition, the history of the Basilica Cistern is also briefly noted.
During the high tourist season, it is possible to enter the Basilica Cistern with online tickets. You can join the GUIDED TOUR by purchasing a ticket from this link here. These skip-the-line tickets give you FAST ACCESS to the museum and can be canceled up to 24 hours before the event.
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Byzantine Cisterns in Istanbul
There are hundreds of Byzantine cisterns in the Old City of Istanbul. If you look carefully, you will notice that there are cisterns with red brick ceilings visible even in Hagia Sophia Square or the second courtyard of Topkapi Palace.
Istanbul, formerly known as Constantinople, had been under siege many times in history. The city, which had the most powerful city walls of the Middle Ages, succeeded in lifting the siege each time. In military history, these walls are called Theodosian Walls.
However, it was not only the walls that were necessary during the sieges. It was very important to meet the water needs of the city people. Therefore, there are numerous cisterns under the Historical Peninsula of Istanbul.
Today, three Byzantine cisterns are open to visitors as a museum in Sultanahmet. One is the famous Basilica Cistern (Yerebatan Sarnici), the other is the recently restored Theodosius Cistern (Serefiye Sarnici). Apart from these two, there is another cistern called Cistern of Philoxenos (Binbirdirek Sarnici).
History of The Basilica Cistern
The history of the Basilica Cistern goes back 1500 years, when the Byzantine Empire was at the height of its power. It was built in the 540s during the reign of the Byzantine emperor Justinian.
Justinian, who ruled the Byzantine Empire from 527 to 565, was also the ruler who built Hagia Sophia. He is considered the most important ruler of the Byzantine Empire, which survived for more than 1000 years.
The Basilica Cistern is really amazing in size. Built in 108 meters and 65 meters in size, the cistern is the largest cistern in Istanbul with an area of 9800 m2. The Cistern was built to meet the water needs of the Great Palace of Eastern Roman Emperors.
1. Ancient Columns of Basilica Cistern
Inside the cistern, there are 336 reused columns from various ancient Greco-Roman structures. When you look carefully at these columns, you will notice that they are not made for this cistern and are of different shapes and lengths.
Some of the ancient columns of the Basilica Cistern are from the ancient Greek period, while others are from the Roman period. The Byzantines, on the other hand, gathered columns from the ruins of these periods.
2. Medusa Heads in the Cistern
As you move towards the bottom of the cistern, you will see that large stones were placed under the two very short columns for support. Medusa’s face was engraved on these stones.
For the architects who built the cistern, the rocks of which medusa heads were engraved had no meaning. They told the workers to place the rocks under two columns shorter than the others. But in the 540s when the cistern was built, it had only been two centuries since Christianity had been accepted.
The figures of ancient Greek mythology still remained in the minds of people. The workers were afraid of Medusa, which turned everyone into stone. Therefore, they placed one of the Medusa heads on the side and one upside down.
3. Why is It Called Basilica Cistern?
There are various rumors about where the Basilica Cistern got its name. The most common of these is that the cistern was named as the Basilica Cistern because it was built under the square called Stoa Basilica, an important square during the Byzantine period.
Basilicas functioned as court buildings in the early Roman Empire. However, later, when Emperor Constantine accepted Christianity, they were converted into churches one by one.
The aim in doing this was to create a practical place of worship for the ever-increasing Christian community. Thus, for centuries, churches were inspired by the basilica plan.
Basilica Cistern Entrance Fee 2023
Basilica Cistern entrance fee is 450 Turkish Lira as of 2023. The information about the ticket price was last updated on 24 September 2023. Please note that Istanbul Museum Pass is not valid for this place.
Buy Basilica Cistern Tickets Online
You can buy your online tickets for the Basilica Cistern from the link below. These tickets are slightly more expensive than regular entrance 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 Entrance Tickets from here which is really reasonable! These fast entry tickets are sold under the guarantee of GetYourGuide, an international company. Easy cancellation with a FULL REFUND up to 24 hours in advance.
Basilica Cistern Opening Hours 2023
Basilica Cistern opening hours are between 09:00 in the morning and 19:00 in the evening. The cistern is open everyday of the week. Information about visiting hours was last updated on 24 September 2023.
The visiting hours of the museum may change due to renovations or events. Before you go, I suggest you check the museum’s official site one last time.
Restoration of Basilica Cistern Completed
Basilica Cistern has been under restoration for many years. However, from 23 July 2022, the Basilica Cistern has reopened. You can visit the cistern between 09:00 in the morning and 19:00 in the evening.
Basilica Cistern renovation brought some aesthetic touches with it. There are many important details inside the cistern that will appeal to art lovers. This 1500-year-old Byzantine cistern awaits its visitors in its most picturesque form.
How to Get to The Cistern?
The Basilica Cistern is located in Sultanahmet, the touristic center of Istanbul. The Cistern is known as “Yerebatan Sarnici” in Turkish. And it is located at the beginning of Yerebatan Street with the same name.
In order to get to the Basilica Cistern from Taksim Square, you can first take the Funicular F1 to Kabatas. You can reach Sultanahmet (picture above) by Tram T1 from Kabatas and walk to the cistern in a few minutes from the tram station.
The Basilica Cistern is located in one of the most touristic places in Istanbul. After visiting the cistern, you can see many museums and historical artifacts in the Sultanahmet district.
If you want to learn more about places to visit in Istanbul, I can recommend you a useful blog post. Thanks to the maps and information in Istanbul Maps article, you can easily find the places you will visit during your Istanbul trip.
Written by Serhat Engul