Guided Basilica Cistern Tour

Guided Museums Tours
Under Restoration

4.5

30317 Reviews #5 in Istanbul

€10 Regular Ticket Value

Are you ready to explore the Basilica Cistern?

The Basilica Cistern is the largest among the numerous underground cisterns in Istanbul. The Underground Palace, or the Yerebatan Saray as the Ottomans called it, is an amazing sight to behold.

While the Istanbul Tourist Pass’s capable and well-informed guides take you through the cistern while explaining the history behind this architectural marvel, you’ll feel as though you’ve gone back through time. The Basilica Cistern includes very interesting architectural and historical features, such as Medusa head pillar bases. If you are the one to be intrigued by eastern architecture, Istanbul Tourist Pass is here to sate your intellectual needs.

Check out our Guided Tours Timetable and add Basilica Cistern Guided Tour | Istanbul Tourist Pass to your Istanbul itinerary today!

About The Guided Basilica Cistern Tour

Mobile ticketing - No need for printed voucher, we're digital!

Duration - 30 Minutes  Check Time table to see starting times.

Instant confirmation - No reservation is required.

Guide - English

 

Highlights

 Feel the past with the amazing architecture!  In the construction of the cistern, more than 7000 slaves worked! 

 Learn more about The Basilica Cistern which is the largest of hundreds of ancient cisterns that lie beneath Istanbul. 

 Be amazed by its history! With its charming historical and architectural structure, the Basilica Cistern is one of the best places to visit in Istanbul.

 

Includes

Entrance to Basilica Cistern

Guide

 

Covid-19 precautions

Safety - All areas that customers touch are frequently cleaned

Social - Distancing is maintained in museums

Mask - Wearing mask is mandatory during museum visit

Limited Visitors - To reduce crowds, the number of visitors is limited

 

The Basilica Cistern 

The Basilica Cistern is the largest of several hundred ancient cisterns that lie beneath the city of Istanbul. Visit the Underground Palace (Yerebatan Saray), as it was known by the Ottomans, and experience the wonder of the vast cistern for yourself. You'll either feel transported back in time or onto the set of the blockbuster film "Inferno" as your guide explains the history behind interesting features such as the Medusa head pillar bases. Bring on the adventure!

Hours & Meeting

The Basilica Cistern is currently under restoration and the visitation is closed.

The approximate duration is 30 minutes

Please meet your guide at the meeting point 10 minutes before the tour start time.

How To Get There?

Where to meet

The meeting point for the Basilica Cistern guided tour is the main bus stop for the Big Bus Tour Company at Sultanahmet Square. Look out for the dark red double-decker buses. It's about 20 metres (65 ft) in front of the Hagia Sophia Museum.

Getting there

To get to Sultanahmet Square, take the T1 Bağılar - Kabataş tram and get off at Sultanahmet station. Walk towards Hagia Sophia and keep an eye out for the Big Bus stop.

Get Directions

Important Information

The guided tours are performed in English.

The tour starts at the Big Bus Company bus stop in Sultanahmet. Click "Get Directions" above to find the location on Google Maps.

The tour doesn't require a reservation in advance.

Istanbul Tourist Pass holders do not pay admission at the Basilica Cistern.

Children will be asked to present their valid passport at the entrance of the museums in order to validate their age.

Please note that this attraction cannot be accessed directly by presenting the digital Pass at the museum. You need to enter with the tour guide.

The museum is closed for visits for half-day on the first day of Ramadan and Sacrifice Festivals.

Guided Basilica Cistern Tour FREE With

Avoid paying the €15 tour fee to the Basilica Tour and skip the ticket queues with Istanbul Tourist Pass.

Basilica Tour Includes Istanbul Tourist Pass with English speaking Professional Guide.

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All About Guided Basilica Cistern Tour

This large underground cistern is built by the Byzantine Emperor Justinian (527-565) to solve the drinking water problem in the city. The Basilica Cistern was used for a while after the conquest of Istanbul by the Ottomans in 1453 and water was supplied to the gardens of Topkapı Palace, where the Sultans lived. 

The water from the cistern was still water. That’s why it was not preferred by some of the Ottoman Sultan who liked to drink running water. After some water facilities were established in the city, the Cistern was completely forgotten until it was rediscovered by the Dutch traveler P. Gyllius who visited Istanbul in to investigate the Byzantine ruins.

When the Cistern was unearthed, it was not in a condition to be used and required a massive renovation. The biggest renovation project during the Republican period was initiated by the Istanbul Municipality in 1985. With the removal of 50,000 tons of mud and the construction of the excursion platform, it was completed on September 9, 1987 and reopened to visitors. 

The Basilica Cistern became one of the top tourist destinations since then. This place attracts millions of travelers each year due to its historical and impressing atmosphere. You can visit the Basilica Cistern with the Istanbul Tourist Pass to skip the ticket lines and save time and money on your Istanbul trip. 

Basilica Cistern Facts

  • In the construction of the cistern, more than 7000 slaves worked.
  • After being designated as a museum, it’s been one of the best tourist attractions. Since then, Basilica Cistern has received a lot of attention from local and international visitors.
  • Cistern’s famous visitors include the former US President Bill Clinton, Dutch Prime Minister Wim Kok, former Italian Foreign Minister Lamberto Dini, former Swedish Prime Minister Göran Persson and Austrian former Prime Minister Thomas Klestil.
Architecture of Basilica Cistern

Basilica Cistern is a huge building covering a rectangular area with 140 m in length and 70 m in width. It is descended by a 52-step stone staircase, having 336 columns, each 9 m in height. These columns, constructed at intervals of 4.80 meters from each other, form 28 rows of 12 in each row. 

The columns rising in the water fascinate the visitors with their architecture as soon as they enter the cistern. The ceiling weight of the cistern was transferred to the columns by means of round cruciform vaults and arches. Most of the columns, which are understood to have been collected from older buildings and carved from granite of various types of marble.

The headings of these columns have different features from place to place. While 98 of them reflect the Corinthian style, some of them belong to the Doric style. 

The cistern is built of bricks, 4.80 m. thick walls and brick-tiled floor were plastered with a thick layer of Khorasan mortar and made watertight. This cistern has an area of ​​9800 m2 in total, and its water storage capacity is nearly 100,000 tons.

The impressive pillars are decorated with the repetitions of Peacock Eye, Drooping Branch, Teardrop shapes in carving and relief. According to popular rumors; the shapes that look like tears describes the hundreds of slaves who died during the construction of the Great Basilica.

After passing the middle part of the Cistern, it is about 40 m. inward from the southwest wall. A total of 40 columns, 9 columns in the longest part and 2 columns in the narrowest part, cannot be seen because they are behind these walls.

Medusa Heads In the Basilica Cistern

There are two Medusa Heads, located under the columns in the northwest corners of the Basilica Cistern and used as pedestals. These are among the most beautiful masterpieces of the Roman period sculpture art. It is still a question mark today, where these structures were found and brought here. 

There are still legends about the Head of Medusa. According to a rumor, Medusa is a woman who is always proud of her black eyes, long hair and perfect body, and she is in love with Perseus, the son of Zeus. But it is known that Athena also fell in love with Perseus and was jealous of Medusa. Rumor indicates that Athena turned Medusa's hair into snakes. And on top of that, it is said that everyone who Medusa looks at turns into stone. That is why these Medusa Heads in the Basilica Cistern are placed upside-down to avoid its direct gaze. 

Medusa, as one of the three Gorgonas, in Greek Mythology, is the female monster of the underworld. Of these three sisters, only Medusa with the Snake Head is positive. At that time, it is thought that the paintings and sculptures of Gorgona heads were placed in order to protect large structures. Medusa was placed here to protect this private place. These Medusa Heads are crucial for the Basilica Cistern that makes here one of the top travel spots to visit in İstanbul. Every tourist should add the Basilica Cistern to their Istanbul bucket list.

One of the best places to visit in İstanbul is also another cistern: Şerefiye Cistern. With its splendid architecture, you can experience a historical, guided tourist attraction, and you can have a look at it from here.

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By having the Istanbul Tourist Pass®, you can visit more than 60+ attractions in Istanbul. You can save huge amount of time and money by not waiting in the long queues or paying fees at the entrances of the museums or for other facilities and activities. You can buy the Istanbul Tourist Pass®️ for 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7 or 10 days. So many attractions are available with Istanbul Tourist Pass®️ such as Topkapı Palace, Hagia Sophia, Dolmabahçe Palace, Sapanca Lake daily tour, Dinner on the Bosphorus, Istanbul Airport Shuttle etc. included in the pass. For more details and updated attractions available with the pass can be found on website.

Guided Basilica Cistern Tour Frequently Asked Questions

Why is Basilica Cistern Called “Underground Palace (Yerebatan Sarayı)”?

Why is Basilica Cistern called “Underground Palace (Yerebatan Sarayı)”?

Why Should I Visit the Basilica Cistern?

It is the largest of the several ancient cisterns in Istanbul. With its charming historical and architectural structure, the Basilica Cistern is one of the best places to visit in Istanbul.

Can I Get in Basilica Cistern With Istanbul Tourist Pass?

No, this attraction cannot be accessed directly by presenting the digital Pass at the museum. You need to enter with the tour guide.

Where Can I Meet with the Guide?

You can find meeting location at "Hours & Meeting" section, our guides carry a white flag with the logo of Istanbul Tourist Pass®

When I Can Join the Great Palace Mosaics Museum Tour with a Guide?

You can find tour hours at "Hours & Meeting" section. Please meet your guide at the meeting point 10 minutes before the tour start time.

Basilica Cistern Museum Opening Hours

Museum is open all day throughout the week. Exceptionally, only in the first day of the religious holidays, you can visit Basilica Cistern from 13:00 until 18.00.

What was the Basilica Cistern Used For?

Cisterns were widely used in the Ottoman Empire as water filtration systems. Basilica Cistern was one of the oldest Cisterns in the city.

Why is the Basilica Cistern Closed?

Basilica Cistern was closed due to the covid restrictions in the country. After that, the cistern went under restoration.

How Old is the Basilica Cistern in Istanbul?

The Mesmerizing Basilica Cistern Was Built by the Emperor Justinian in A.C 532. So Now, It is More than 1400 Years Old!

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