Basilica Cistern

Explore the underground world of the Basilica Cistern and find out more about Istanbul’s history through the ages. Originally built in 532 to service the Great Palace, the cistern was forgotten for more than 1,000 years, but today is one of the city’s most popular and interesting attractions.

As you go through the entrance opposite the Hagia Sophia museum in Sultanahmet, you’ll walk down the steps into the impressive Byzantine cistern. Following the raised pathways, you’ll pass by 336 columns as you enjoy the cool underground air, which can be a welcome break from the heat outside.

When the Basilica Cistern was constructed, many of the columns were built with materials salvaged from Roman temples. As you walk through the cistern that has water dripping from the ceiling, look out for the two Medusa heads used as column bases, one positioned upside down and the other on its side. You can even spot fish swimming in the water below.

To make the most of your visit, it’s worth paying for an audio guide. As you tour the Basilica Cistern, find out how it was rediscovered by a scholar in the 16th century after residents told him they were collecting water by lowering buckets beneath their basements. Since then the ancient cistern has since been used in the James Bond film ‘From Russia With Love’, and continues to attract thousands of visitors every year.

After your visit, go to the Hagia Sophia museum, otherwise known as ‘Aya Sofya’, where you can tour this historic mosque with its beautiful mosaics and huge domed ceiling.