Built in the 6th century, the Basilica Cistern is a famous historical site in Istanbul, Turkey. It was originally named Yerebatan Palace by Byzantine Emperor Justinian I.
This ancient ruin is the largest within the city; there are approximately 100 of them. That’s why it is an absolute must-visit, regardless of how long you plan to stay in Istanbul.
The underground reservoir can hold approximately 100.000 tons of water, that’s roughly 400 Olympic-sized swimming pools. Its size, concave arches and magnificent columns are what makes it an absolute treat to see.
You´ll find Basilica Cistern at Alemdar, Yerebatan Cd. 1/3, 34110 İstanbul, Turkey.
What to Expect at Basilica Cistern
As you first start to descend the 55 steps, you`ll notice a drop in the temperature, a relief if you travel to Istanbul in summer. Tawny lighting illuminates the 336 marble columns that rise from the water.
Their towering stature is lengthened by their water reflection. Haunting music ricochets through the cathedral-like space and is accompanied by the water drip.
Highlights of the Basilica Cistern
Istanbul’s Basilica Cistern is both eerily and charming. It is a unique experience for all the family. The cistern stretches over a total area of 9.800 m2; expect to spend between 1-2 hours exploring.
During your underground exploration, be sure not to miss these significant highlights:
- Crying Column – Amongst the marble columns, don’t miss the most special one, the ‘Crying Column,’ carved with tears, a peacock eye and a drooping branch.
- Head of Medusa – A stone statue of a snake-haired Medusa lies within the chamber. She was one of the three Gorgons. Gorgon art was used, in the past, to preserve and protect special places.
Ticket Information of the Basilica Cistern
Basilica Cistern is an incredibly affordable attraction. A ticket costs 30 Turkish Lira, the equivalent of 2 Euros. Children under 8 can enter for free.
Tickets cannot be bought online. Therefore, arrive early in the morning on the day of your visit to guarantee tickets.
Opening times vary throughout the year:
- November to mid-April – 9am until 5.30pm
- Mid-April to October – Extended hours to 6.30pm
Sometimes it is closed for restoration purposes, as it requires a lot of maintenance. So, always check the official website before planning your visit to avoid disappointment. You could do this yourself or ask the receptionist at your hotel.
It is entirely possible to visit, walk around and enjoy the experience yourself. But a guided tour will definitely upgrade your underground adventure, making it more memorable as you`ll discover more about its history and purpose.
How to Tour Basilica Cistern
The Istanbul Tourist Pass offers 3 choices to tour Basilica Cistern.
Guided Museum Tour (€15/adult & children 3-8 €7.50) A ticket for this museum only. You’ll skip any queues upon arrival and get a live guide in English.
Guided Museums Pass (€50/adult & children 3-8 €15) Great for visiting more than one museum. You`ll receive a guided tour in English at the top 8 museums in Istanbul, as well as skipping any lines. The pass lasts for 5 days.
Hire a Private Tour (€150/day) Perfect for those travelling in a large group. Get a personalised tour of the city, in almost any language, with a knowledgeable local professional. Be guided around multiple museums and attractions. It doesn’t include any attraction tickets.
Unmissable Attractions Closeby
Right outside of Basilica Cistern is the “Milion Stone,” an obelisk, which was believed to be located in the centre of the world. During the Byzantine era, it was used to calculate the distance between Istanbul and other cities around the world.
Other local attractions not to be missed include:
- Hagia Sophia – 3 min walk
- The Blue Mosque – 3 min walk
- Museum of Turkish and Islamic Art – 5 min walk
- Topkapi Palace – 6 mins walk
Places to Eat Around Basilica Cistern
Less than half a mile away, you can satisfy your hunger at:
- Kosk 1981 Café & Restaurant – Fresh food of Ottoman and Turkish cuisine. Dishes range from €5 to €12. Out of 635 reviews on TripAdvisor, 625 rates it as excellent.
- Istanbul Kebab Café & Restaurant – A friendly family-run restaurant with dishes ranging from €7 – €12. Out of 1,453 reviews on TripAdvisor, 408 rates it as excellent.
- 360° Panoramic Cihannuma Restaurant – Get a great view with your lunch or dinner. You will definitely need to reserve your table in advance. Dishes range from €10 to €25. Out of 1,094 reviews on Tripadvisor, 845 rates it as excellent.
- Hafiz Mustafa Candy Store – Embrace the local sweet tooth at a store opened in 1864. Sugary treats include Turkish Delight, Dragee or Ottoman Kadayif.
We hope you have a great time at the Basilica Cistern; for more tourist information about Turkey, visit Limak Hotels Blog.