Basilica Cistern, the strangest tourist attractions in Istanbul

Basilica Cistern in Istanbul

The Basilica Cistern church, also known as “Sunken Cistern” is one of the main tourist attractions in SultanahmetIstanbul, with more than 2.2 million tourists visit it annually.

Istanbul attracts thousands of visitors from all over the world due to its magnificent historical landmarks, which spread in all the city.

Thus, the Basilica Cistern is one of the magical landmarks in Istanbul with a great history and stories.

Due to the presence of many Roman columns in the tank, the Cistern Basilica looks like an underground palace. That is why the Turks call it “Yerpatan Saray”, which means “underground palace.”

Basilica Cistern got its name from the historical Stoa Basilica, which is one of the two large public squares in Constantinople.

The cisterns provided the water needs of the population during periods of drought and other purposes throughout history such as silk or shelter.

The magical history of Basilica Cistern-Istanbul

The magical history of Basilica Cistern-Istanbul
The magical history of Basilica Cistern-Istanbul

The Basilica Cistern was built around 324-330 BC, when Emperor Constantine decided to build a new imperial city in Constantinople on the legendary seven hills as in Rome.

First, he built his palace, the church of Hagia Sophia, the church of Hagia Irene, Horse racing, City Forum and Cistern Church.

Some historians agree that the date of the cistern is the 6th century when Emperor Justinian enlarged the basilica cistern after the Nika Revolution in 53 AD.

The tank is one of the oldest historical heritage of Byzantium along with Hagia Sophia and Hagia Irene, it is about 1500-1700 years old.

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What is the main purpose of the Basilica Cistern?

What is the main purpose of the Basilica Cistern
What is the main purpose of the Basilica Cistern

When Emperor Constantine and Justinian built their mythical city of Constantinople, it became one of the most beautiful mythical cities in the East and West.

However, there was a difficulty in the city in getting water, which remained unresolved until the cisterns were built.

There were no potable water sources in Istanbul, and it had to be brought from outside by water pipes.

The Basilica Cistern and many other underground cisterns such as the Philoxenus Cistern (Bin Bir Direk Sarnıcı), the Cistern of Goodwill (Şerefiye Sarnıcı) and the cistern under the Nakkash center, were all built as water storage tanks to solve the Constantinople water issue and also to supply the residents with enough water in the days of the siege.

It also supplied the Big Palace with water and the pipelines came from outside Constantinople like the Belgrade Forest.

Unfortunately, the pipes have disappeared today and no traces of these pipelines can be found.

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Architectural features of the Cistern Church

Architectural features of the Cistern Church
Architectural features of the Cistern Church

Basilica Cistern really resembles a palace with 336 columns, each 9 meters in height, to support the small domes above them.

The columns of the cistern seem endless, with a length of 140 meters, and width of 70 meters, and the distance between each column is 4.80 meters.

Columns are not the same, they all have different styles and prove that the architects may use recycled columns brought from the ancient cities, as they did in the construction of Hagia Sophia.

This diversity of styles can be understood from the fascinating decorations and the colors of the marble columns.

The tank covers an area of 9,800 square meters and can hold 100,000 tons of water that can supply the needs for months.

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Important tips when visiting the Basilica Cistern

Important tips when visiting the Basilica Cistern
Important tips when visiting the Basilica Cistern
  • It can be very crowded in summer season, so try to get there early in the morning to avoid overcrowding.
  • There is a café to buy drinks and snacks, and a souvenir shop is at the exit.
  • It is not allowed to take pictures with a tripod.
  • Fees are just with cash (Turkish lira).

How to reach the Basilica Cistern?

How to reach the Basilica Cistern
How to reach the Basilica Cistern
  • You can reach by tram
  • By taxi, you can also take a taxi to go to Sultanahmet, and then to the church.
  • By Bus, in Istanbul, you can take the tour buses around Sultanahmet Square which stop near Basilica Cistern and the ticket price for this tour is about $50.

The museum is open every day of the week from 9:00 to 17:30. Additionally, you cannot pre-book online from a website but it is easy to book a guided tour through the internet.

We recommend you to visit the church to know all its historical stories and take many beautiful pictures.

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