Quick Facts About the Basilica Cistern:
Official Name: Yerebatan Sarnici
Location: Alemdar, Yerebatan Cd. 1/3, 34110 Sultanahmet Fatih, Istanbul, Turkey
Closest Landmark: Hagia Sophia
Operating Hours: 9 AM to 7 PM
Commissioned By: Emperor Justinian in 532 AD following the Nika Riots
Architect: Designed by Tralles
Construction Labor: Approximately 7,000 enslaved individuals under Byzantine rule
Architectural Style: Featuring a rectangular layout with chamfered squares and imposing marble columns
UNESCO World Heritage Site: Recognized as one of Istanbul's most historically significant locations
Annual Visitors: Approximately 2.2 million
Purpose: Originally built to store water for the Imperial Palace and the surrounding regions of Constantinople
Why visit the Basilica Cistern Medusa Heads?
Historical Significance: The Basilica Cistern stands as a remarkable testament to Byzantine architectural and engineering prowess, with the inclusion of the Medusa Heads providing an intriguing historical facet to the attraction.
Mystical Appeal: The reasons behind the curious upside-down and sideways orientation of the Basilica Medusa Heads remain a mystery, yet these unconventional angles craft an eerie ambiance that enhances the Cistern's overall enchantment.
Ancient Greek Artifacts: The Medusa heads represent a rare survival of ancient Greek sculpture in Istanbul, distinctively setting them apart from anything else you'll encounter in the city.
Breathtaking Visual Delight: The softly illuminated cistern, adorned with orderly columns and their shimmering reflections on the water, offers a visual experience of exceptional beauty that leaves an indelible impression. The Medusa heads stand as just one of the many elements contributing to the magnificence of this ancient site.
To embark on your journey through the ancient water reservoir, you must descend a staircase comprising precisely 52 steps, leading you to the mesmerizing world of the 336 illuminated columns within the Basilica Cistern. Thanks to its towering columns, expansive archways, and awe-inspiring construction, the public affectionately dubs it the 'Basilica Palace.
During the rule of Emperor Justinian in the 6th century, the Basilica Cistern was erected. Its primary function was to provide water to the Great Palace and neighboring structures, boasting an impressive storage capacity of approximately 100,000 tons of water. The architectural design was masterminded by the renowned architect Tralles. The task of repurposing and erecting the 336 columns, which now stand as a testament to their grandeur, was entrusted to a workforce of 7,000 enslaved individuals.
Under the reign of the Ottoman Empire in Turkey, the Basilica Cistern served as a vital water source for the Topkapi Palace and the Imperial Harem. Nevertheless, as the Empire faced disintegration, the cistern gradually fell into neglect. It wasn't until the Dutch traveler Petrus Gyllius undertook a restoration effort, equipping the facility with lighting to illuminate its magnificent columns and interiors. Finally, in the year 1987, the Basilica Cistern was unveiled to the public, once again reclaiming its historical significance.
Basilica Cistern Today
Presently, the Basilica Cistern stands as one of Istanbul's foremost tourist attractions, renowned for its sprawling network of columns and arches that create an utterly unique ambiance. An intriguing highlight within the Basilica Cistern is the presence of two Medusa heads, positioned at the base of two of its columns. These enigmatic sculptures are thought to have been incorporated during the Byzantine era, possibly repurposed from an ancient Roman structure.
Throughout the years, the cistern has undergone multiple renovations and restorations to ensure its enduring preservation. In today's context, visitors have the opportunity to traverse a raised platform that guides them through the softly illuminated expanse, affording them a close encounter with the Medusa heads and a chance to revel in the captivating visual spectacle that the Basilica Cistern unfolds.