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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.

Popular Activities at Basilica Cistern

Get the most out of your time at Basilica Cistern. Here is a list of some of the most popular things to do:

For even more things to do, take a look at our Istanbul things to do page.


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Lodging Near Basilica Cistern

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Doruk Palas Hotel $57
Reviewed on May 12, 2019
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Doruk Palas Hotel

Doruk Palas Hotel

Emekyemez Mahallesi, Nazli Hanim Sk. No 19 Galata, Istanbul, Istanbul
     
    4.8 of 5
    0.0 out of 5.0

    The reception staff, named Emir, is very hospitality and handy. My first night stay was at the 1floor and there was a minor issue of that room. Emir brought all the tools and try to fix it. What a NICE problem solver! well done! very thoughtful!

    Sura Hagia Sophia Hotel $86
    Reviewed on May 24, 2019
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    Sura Hagia Sophia Hotel

    Sura Hagia Sophia Hotel

    Divanyolu Cd. Alemdar Mah., Ticarethane Sk. No 10 Sultanahmet, Istanbul, Istanbul
       
      4.2 of 5
      5.0 out of 5.0

      The sales staff was quite pushy selling the cruise dinnee when i checked in. He became indifferent when i rejected. The hotel is overall ok amd and close to airport bus station, and tramvay.

      The Ambassador Hotel $91
      Reviewed on May 20, 2019
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      The Ambassador Hotel

      The Ambassador Hotel

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

        Was a pleasure to stay in this amazing hotel, everyone is so friendly . The best part is the view on the roof which charges your battery ❤️.

        Sura Design Hotel and Suites - Boutique Class $113
        Reviewed on Apr 9, 2019
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        Sura Design Hotel and Suites - Boutique Class

        Sura Design Hotel and Suites - Boutique Class

        Alemdar Mh., Ticarethane Sk. No:13, Fatih, Istanbul, Istanbul
           
          4.1 of 5
          5.0 out of 5.0

          Great location and very nice staff!! Thanks Ilham For all your help!!

          Ottoman Hotel Imperial - Special Class $73
          Reviewed on May 19, 2019
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          Ottoman Hotel Imperial - Special Class

          Ottoman Hotel Imperial - Special Class

          Caferiye Sok. No. 6/1, Sultanhmet, Istanbul, Istanbul
             
            4.3 of 5
            4.0 out of 5.0

            Fantastic location. Decent breakfast. First room had bathroom so small, the toilet was skewed to fit it in, but our heads are in the sink when we used it. After firmly complaining, we were begrudgingly upgraded. Second room had huge Turkish bath. Nice! The staff

            Hotel Amira Istanbul $134
            Reviewed on May 22, 2019
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            Hotel Amira Istanbul

            Hotel Amira Istanbul

            Kucuk Ayasofya Mahallesi Mustafa, Pasa Sokak No: 79 Sultahnamet, Istanbul, Istanbul
               
              4.8 of 5
              0.0 out of 5.0

              Perfect location. Hotel is 10 minutes walk from all the attractions. Hotel is beautiful, nice rooftop with a great view. Clean room but a little small. Confort beds. The staff are great and friendly. I would highly recommend this hotel.

              Lalinn Hotel $26
              Reviewed on May 20, 2019
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              Lalinn Hotel

              Lalinn Hotel

              Oyuncu Cikmazi Oyuncu Sok. No 4, Ahirkapi Sultanahmet, Istanbul, Istanbul
                 
                4.1 of 5
                3.0 out of 5.0

                One of the greatest hotel in Istanbul. Limited services yet confortable Smiley and helpful staff The view is adorable One thing only : the stairs are really tiring after a long shopping day

                Arden City Hotel - Special Class $101
                Reviewed on May 20, 2019
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                Arden City Hotel - Special Class

                Arden City Hotel - Special Class

                Alemdar Mah Kazm Ismail Gürkan Cad No2, Sultanahmet, Istanbul
                   
                  4.2 of 5
                  4.5 out of 5.0

                  Great location, friendly and eager to help staff. I would recommend this hotel and would stay there again.