Beginning of main content

Basilica Cistern (Yerebatan Sarayi)

The “Sunken Palace” is one of the most striking remnants of Byzantine Constantinople and is the largest of hundreds of ancient underground reservoirs in Istanbul.

While the minarets and domes that stretch across the Istanbul skyline are certainly captivating and immense, the Basilica Cistern, or Yerebatan Sarayi in Turkish, is proof that there is much to be discovered below the foundations of the great city as well. In Istanbul, hundreds of dark Byzantine cisterns remain in place from the olden days of Constantinople. None of these is grander, or better known, than the Basilica Cistern. On a hot summer’s day, this “Sunken Palace” is a great place to cool off .

Built by the Byzantine Emperor Justinian in the sixth century, the Basilica Cistern was used to store water for the Great Palace. Later on it was more or less forgotten by the city for a time until its grandeur was rediscovered in the 16th century. After been used by locals as a place to dump rubbish and even corpses, the cistern found a new purpose as a water supply for Topkapi Palace.

Listen to atmospheric music and follow the mood lighting while strolling over the raised walkways, installed in the 1990s to offer a clearer view of the dark depths below. There is even a café selling refreshments and Turkish-style tea.


While the cistern now seems rather distant from its original purpose and design, it remains a truly remarkable feat of engineering. The scale itself is impressive, with 336 marble columns set over a space of nearly 2.4 acres (nearly 1 hectare). Once the cistern held over 21 million gallons (80 million liters) of water that was pumped through more than 12 miles (19 kilometers) of aqueducts. See if you can find the columns with the upturned Medusa heads, in the back on the northwest side.

A visit to the Basilica Cistern on Sultanahmet Square in the Old City is a chance to explore something different from the palaces, mosques and bazaars that tend to dominate the Istanbul itinerary. Visits typically last no more than an hour. The cistern is open daily and foreigners pay an entrance fee. A tram stop is nearby.


Guide to Exploring around Basilica Cistern


Map

Lodging Near Basilica Cistern

See all 1,901 Hotels near Basilica Cistern
$123
Sura Hagia Sophia Hotel

Sura Hagia Sophia Hotel

Divanyolu Cd. Alemdar Mah., Istanbul
4.2
of 5, from 434 reviews
5.0 out of 5.0

Located in Old City, this luxury hotel is within a 5-minute walk of German Fountain, Basilica Cistern, and Hagia Sophia. Cagaloglu Hamami and Cemberlitas Bath are also within 5 minutes.

$94
Sura Design Hotel and Suites - Boutique Class

Sura Design Hotel and Suites - Boutique Class

Divanyolu Cad. Ticarethane Sok. No:45, Istanbul
4.2
of 5, from 337 reviews
5.0 out of 5.0

This family-friendly Istanbul hotel is located in the historical district, within a 5-minute walk of Basilica Cistern, Hagia Sophia, and Cagaloglu Hamami. Hippodrome and Blue Mosque are also within 10 minutes.

$110
White House Hotel Istanbul

White House Hotel Istanbul

Alemdar Mah Catalcesme Sok No:21, Istanbul
4.8
of 5, from 137 reviews
4.0 out of 5.0

Located in Old City, this hotel is within a 5-minute walk of Cagaloglu Hamami, Basilica Cistern, and Hagia Sophia. Hippodrome and Blue Mosque are also within 10 minutes.

$79
Arden City Hotel - Special Class

Arden City Hotel - Special Class

Alemdar Mah Kazm Ismail Gürkan Cad No2, Istanbul
4.3
of 5, from 210 reviews
4.5 out of 5.0

Located in Old City, this luxury hotel is within a 5-minute walk of Cagaloglu Hamami, Basilica Cistern, and Hagia Sophia. Hippodrome and Grand Bazaar are also within 10 minutes.

$85
The Ambassador Hotel

The Ambassador Hotel

Ticarethane Cikmazi No 19, Istanbul
4.3
of 5, from 467 reviews
3.5 out of 5.0

Located in Old City, this spa hotel is within a 5-minute walk of Basilica Cistern, Hagia Sophia, and Cagaloglu Hamami. Hippodrome and Blue Mosque are also within 10 minutes.