Basilica Underground Cisterm

There are hundreds of ancient cisterns hidden underneath the streets of Istanbul. The Basilica Cistern is the largest and Istanbulís most unusual tourist attraction.

Also known as the Sunken Palace, the Basilica Cistern, was built as a water reservoir to provide water to the Great Palace and nearby buildings during the reign of Emperor Justinian I in the 6th century AD.

With a capacity of 900,000 m3 water and covering nearly 1000 m2, the cistern is 132 m long, 64.6 m wide, and consists of 336 marble columns, each joining to brick vaults. Most of the column capitals are either in the Corinthian or Doric style. The Basilica Cistern is the best preserved Byzantine cistern in the world.

The cistern was forgotten for centuries, only accidently rediscovered by the Frenchman Peter Gyllius in 1545. He came to Constantinople in search of Byzantine antique monuments. Well, he certainly found one when he noticed that local people got their water by lowering buckets through holes in the floors of their houses!

Walk to the back of the Cistern and you will notice an upside-down Medusa head supporting one of the columns. Why it is upside down has been subject to much discussion. The most logical reason would seem to be that people who placed the stone believed that if the head was upside down it would ward off evil spirits.

The Basilica Cistern is within quick walking distance to the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque. Donít miss it if you visit the Old City.