Basilica Cistern is actually an underground water reservoir from the Byzantine period. Basilica Cistern currently serves as a museum and is located in Sultanahmet district of Istanbul.
The cistern was built during the reign of Justinian, the most powerful ruler of the Byzantine Empire. It was built to supply water to the Great Palace, Hagia Sophia and other administrative buildings, which were the most important structures of the city.
In the 15th century, when Constantinople was taken by the Ottomans, the cistern ceased to be used. Even its existence was forgotten for a while. In this article you can find useful information about the history, entrance fee and visiting hours of the Basilica Cistern.
You can come across long lines at the Basilica Cistern in spring and summer. You can buy online tickets to join a guided group tour that provides FAST TRACK for Basilica Cistern from the link here.
Basilica Cistern Tips from Locals
Basilica Cistern is one of the most mysterious museums in Istanbul. As a local tour guide, in this article I tried to give you useful tips on your visit to Basilica Cistern.
During your visit to the cistern, you will enter a dark environment with dim lights. While visiting this 1500-year-old cistern, you will feel like you are traveling in time.
History of Basilica Cistern
The history of Basilica Cistern goes back 1500 years. This cistern was of vital importance in the history of the city. Because the Historical Peninsula, on which Constantinople is located, had very limited water resources.
1. Byzantine Period
During the Byzantine period, the cistern was one of the life sources of the city. When Constantinople was besieged, water was supplied from hundreds of cisterns in the city.
Constantinople was besieged by the Huns, Persians, Arabs, Crusaders, Bulgarians and Turks in history. The main thing protecting the city in each of these sieges was the Theodosian Walls.
However, in addition to the walls, the cisterns that brought a solution to the water shortage in the city were also important. Among them were Basilica Cistern, Theodosius Cistern, Cistern of Philoxenos and Cistern of Aetius.
2. Ottoman Period
During the Ottoman period, the Cistern disappeared for a while. The French historian Petrus Gyllius, who came to the city in the 1500s, rediscovered the cistern while researching Byzantine history.
The cistern had been used as a workshop for a period. Then it was abandoned when it filled with rain water. Some historians noted that adventurous travelers who came to Istanbul in the 1800s made a boat trip here.
Throughout Ottoman history, it was always known that there were mysterious structures filled with water underground. However, the existence of most of the cisterns in the city was forgotten.
3. Republican Period
During the Republican period, the cistern was not used for many years. However, with the development of tourism after the 80s, a major restoration work was started in the cistern.
The Medusa Heads were found when several centuries of dirty water and mud in the cistern were cleaned. This created a great excitement in the world of archeology. Since then, the cistern has grown in popularity every year.
Today, Basilica Cistern is one of the most visited museums in Istanbul. Located in Sultanahmet, the most touristic district of the city, Cistern is also within walking distance of Hagia Sophia.
Basilica Cistern Ticket Price (August 2022)
Basilica Cistern ticket price is 190 Turkish Liras as of August 2022. Entrance fees were last updated on July 23, 2022 when the Basilica Cistern reopened after restoration. Museum Pass Istanbul is not valid for entrance to the museum.
You can come across long lines at the entrance of Basilica Cistern in spring and summer. You can buy the guided group ticket that provides FAST TRACK for Basilica Cistern from the link here.
The reason why there is no museum card in the cistern is that this museum is operated by the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality. Istanbul Museum Pass is valid only in museums affiliated to the Ministry of Tourism and Culture in Sultanahmet.
Among such exceptional museums is the Dolmabahce Palace. The Museum pass is also not valid at the Dolmabahce Palace located in the Besiktas district of Istanbul.
Basilica Cistern Visiting Hours (August 2022)
Basilica Cistern visiting hours are between 09:00 in the morning and 19:00 in the evening. The visiting hours of the museum were last updated on July 23, 2022, when the Basilica Cistern reopened after restoration.
Basilica Cistern has been reopened on 23 July 2022 after many years of restoration. After the renovation, the cistern gained a new look with artistic touches. If you want to confirm this information, you can visit the official website of the museum here.
Private Istanbul Half Day Tours
As a licensed tour guide, I have been doing history tours in Istanbul since 2004. Basilica Cistern also has an important place in my tours focusing on Roman and Byzantine history.
Private Istanbul half day tours focus on the Hippodrome, Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia, Cistern and Spice Bazaar in the Old City. You can get a lot of information about the history, culture and food of Istanbul on this tour, which lasts about 4 hours.
You can get more detailed information about these tours from this blog post. Half day Istanbul tours gives you general information about the city and makes your visit to Istanbul more meaningful.
Your visit to Basilica Cistern will be among the best moments you will spend in Istanbul. The cistern, which takes you on a journey through time with its mysterious environment, isolates you from the outside world and takes you to another place in history.
There are many other museums, mosques and historical artifacts to visit around the cistern. The first of these is the Milion Stone, which is right next to the cistern. In the Roman period, the place where this stone was located was considered the center of the empire.
Thus, the distance from the capital to other parts of the world was measured by reference to the Milion Stone. Another feature of the Milion was that it was the starting place of Mese, the main street of Constantinople.
The Mese started from where the cistern was and extended to the Forum of Constantine in today’s Cemberlitas. This square was built by Constantine the Great. Then there was the Forum of Theodosius, which was dedicated to another emperor.
When the Byzantine Empire won a victory, the emperor would enter the city through the Golden Gate and cross the Mese all the way to the Hippodrome of Constantinople. In the meantime, there would be great celebrations in these monumental squares.
Written by Serhat Engul