The Basilica Cistern was built in the 3rd or 4th century and reconstructed after a fire damaged it in 476AD. It was constructed to provide filtration of water for the Palace of Constantinople and is located around 9m underground.
At a Glance
Located: Sultanahmet. European Side.
Great for: Incredible Architecture, Greek Myths (Medusa’s Head)
Time needed: 1 hour. ~30 minutes queue and 30 minutes exploring the underground cistern.
Visiting Hours: Between 09:00 and 17:30. Open everyday.
Cost: 20₺ (Approximately £3.55 based on today's exchange rate).
The best way to get to the Basilica Cistern is to take a tram to Sultanahmet where this is located directly in the centre. It is only a 5 minute walk between the Haghia Sofia and the Basilica Cistern. Once you arrive there is usually a queue of people lining out of the door of the building which is directly over the cistern. When I was there, a travel guide spotted that I was foreign and offered to bypass the queue and go straight inside. I declined this offer as it usually very cheap to get inside and the queue will not take long so do not panic and fall for offers such as this!
The picture above shows the columns in the cistern, each 9m high and spaced 4.5m apart. You can see the reflection of the ceiling in the shallow water that fills the floor space surrounded by paths. If you look closely when you visit you will be able to see fish swim in these waters!
Interesting Facts/Local Beliefs
If you look carefully while you walk around the paths of the Basilica Cistern you will be able to see Medusa’s head carved into one of the pillars. You will notice that her head is actually upside down, this was said to be done to prevent the power of her gaze being unleashed! List and find out what you will find when you explore the Basilica Cistern!