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The Mystique of the Basilica Cistern: A Look at its Architecture and History

Beneath the bustling streets of Istanbul lies a hidden gem: the Basilica Cistern. Also known as the “Yerebatan Sarnıcı” in Turkish, this ancient underground structure has been captivating visitors with its intriguing architecture and fascinating history. Let’s dive into the mystique of the Basilica Cistern and explore its unique features.

History of the Basilica Cistern

The Basilica Cistern was built during the reign of Byzantine Emperor Justinian I in the 6th century AD. The cistern was constructed to provide a water filtration system for the Great Palace of Constantinople, which was the residence of the Byzantine emperors. It was used for over 1000 years until the Ottomans conquered Constantinople in 1453 and repurposed it for their own use.The architecture of Basilica Cistern – an ancient underground water reservoir in Istanbul.

The cistern was forgotten for centuries until a Dutch scholar rediscovered it in the 16th century. Since then, it has been restored multiple times and has become a popular tourist attraction.

Architecture of the Basilica Cistern

The Basilica Cistern is an architectural wonder that is unlike anything else in the world. The cistern is over 140 meters long and 70 meters wide, with a total area of over 9,800 square meters. It has 336 columns that are arranged in 12 rows of 28 columns each. The columns are made of marble and are believed to have been repurposed from older structures in the region.

The cistern is supported by the columns, which are arranged in a symmetrical pattern. Each column is over 8 meters tall and is topped with a unique Corinthian or Doric capital. The capitals have different designs, which add to the visual appeal of the cistern.The fascinating history of Basilica Cistern – an ancient underground water reservoir in Istanbul.

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The cistern is also known for its unique water filtration system. The water was transported to the cistern through an aqueduct from a nearby forest. The water was then filtered through layers of sand and charcoal before being distributed to the city through pipes.

Visiting the Basilica Cistern

Visiting the Basilica Cistern is an unforgettable experience. The cistern is located in the heart of Istanbul’s historic district and is easily accessible by public transportation. Upon entering the cistern, visitors are greeted by the sound of soft music and dimly lit columns, which create a mystical atmosphere.

The cistern is open to the public every day from 9 am to 5:30 pm, and visitors are allowed to explore the entire structure. Visitors can walk on a raised platform that is built over the water and get a close-up view of the columns and the water filtration system.


The Basilica Cistern is an architectural marvel that has withstood the test of time. It is a testament to the ingenuity and skill of the Byzantine engineers who built it. The cistern is not only a feat of engineering but also a work of art that has captivated visitors for centuries. Its unique design and history make it a must-visit destination for anyone traveling to Istanbul.

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