The Basilica Cistern is an absolute must when you’re in Istanbul.

This underground water storage system was built in the 6th century and has fascinating historical significance. The ambience inside this structure is truly captivating, making it a unique experience.

Here’s everything you need to know about getting Basilica Cistern tickets and what to expect when visiting this fascinating Istanbul attraction.

Here is an overview:

Commissioned by Emperor Justinian and built with columns salvaged from ruined temples, the cistern boasts a grandeur unlike any other Byzantine architecture that has survived to this day.

With its symmetrical design and colossal size, exploring this underground wonder on hot summer days provides a much-needed respite from heat exhaustion, while leaving visitors spellbound at every turn!

The Byzantine Cistern in Istanbul is truly a sight to behold! It’s amazing how they used 336 columns – some rescued from ancient temples with beautifully carved capitals. The symmetry and grandeur of the place is simply breathtaking. And on hot summer days it is a great escape into its vast depths.

See also: How to Buy Dolmabahce Palace Tickets & What to Expect

Visitors at the Sunken Palace Basilica Cistern in Istanbul, Turkey.
Visitors at the Sunken Palace Basilica Cistern in Istanbul, Turkey.

Buying tickets for the Basilica Cistern – the Sunken Palace

To efficiently plan your visit to the Basilica Cistern, plan to spend approximately 45 minutes exploring. Admission is approximately 30USD per person.

To avoid long lines upon arrival, it would be ideal to purchase tickets online in advance! With these tickets you will also skip the long waiting lines outside. If you book via our link, you’ll even get a 5% discount!

Good to know about visiting the Basilica Cistern

The cistern is open daily between nine and five, so don’t miss out on experiencing one of Istanbul’s most iconic landmarks today.

Once you’ve placed your order, you will get your confirmation and all the download details for your Basilica Cistern Audio Guide. When you arrive at the Cistern, simply show this to your Istanbul Welcome Card guide who will be waiting for you.

Thanks to their expert guidance, you’ll not only be able to skip those pesky ticket lines, but also enjoy an exclusive tour of all the highlights that make up this incredible attraction!

Just one caveat: while it’s great to skip the lines (who doesn’t love feeling like a VIP?), please keep in mind that security checks can take up to 30 minutes during peak season. But at least you won’t have to wait in the endless line for the ticket. It’s best to join one of the first tours of the day as there’ll be less people.

If you want to visit other nearby attractions like the Topkapi Palace or the Hagia Sophia, then you’ll need to purchase a multi-site ticket. Those are just around the corner and also worth visiting.

Is the Basilica Cistern worth visiting?

Yes, it’s definitely worth a visit! This place is simply stunning and will leave you in awe. It has recently reopened as of summer 2022 with some new art installations that add to its charm – especially when they change color!

The paths are cleverly designed so that people don’t block your view as you take pictures from all sorts of angles. You’ll definitely want to snap away at this beautiful spot and capture every color variation possible.

Inside the colorful Basilica Cistern - The Sunken Palace in Istanbul, Turkey.
Inside the colorful Basilica Cistern – The Sunken Palace in Istanbul, Turkey.

VIP Basilica Cistern ticket and guided highlights tour

The Basilica Cistern is a must-see museum in Istanbul that attracts many visitors throughout the year, especially in the spring, summer and fall. However, waiting in long queues at the ticket office can be frustrating. Fortunately, our partner offers you quick access to this amazing site so you don’t have to wait for hours!

Once inside the Cisterns, take all the time you need because there’s no rush – explore it thoroughly at your own pace while listening to captivating stories about its past on the audio guide.

Price: €29 / $30

Discount: 5%

  • Skip the lines and get inside the fastest way
  • Highlights tour in English with a official Basilica Cistern tour guide
  • Unlimited time to stay inside
  • Basilica Cistern Audio App for IOS and Android in 7 languages (English, German, French, Italian, Russian, Spanish, Turkish)

Book here!

Rebook or cancel your Basilica Cistern tickets

Don’t worry if you missed your meeting time! We’ve got you covered. Just join at the next scheduled meeting or on the day that works best for you. And if you have to cancel, don’t worry – you can cancel at any time and they’ll refund your reservation with no hassle. Though I would recommend you to visit it. I was really positively surprised by this tour.

Columns and hand at the Sunken Palace Basilica Cistern in Istanbul, Turkey.
Columns and hand at the Sunken Palace Basilica Cistern in Istanbul, Turkey.

More information about the Sunken Palace Basilica Cistern

It’s a massive structure, 143 meters long and 65 meters wide. The best part is its roof, which is supported by an impressive array of marble columns – all either Ionic or Corinthian!

There are a whopping 336 columns in all, each measuring nine full meters in length.

And get this: they’re spaced every four meters to form twelve rows with twenty-eight columns per row. Now that’s what we call architectural genius!

History of the Sunken Palace Basilica Cistern

The Cistern in Istanbul, like many other sites in the city, has a fascinating history. Originally called the Basilica Cistern because it was located beneath the Stoa Basilica on the first hill, this impressive structure had an important role to play. It was storing up to 80,000 cubic meters of water from reservoirs near the Black Sea via aqueducts and supplying the Great Palace and surrounding buildings.

However, after the Byzantine emperors moved out of the Great Palace, it fell into disuse and was forgotten until Petrus Gyllius rediscovered it in 1545 while researching Byzantine antiquities.

Although the Ottomans called it “Yerebatan Saray” (meaning “Underground Palace“), they didn’t show any respect for its historical significance, so over time people started using it to dump all kinds of garbage, including corpses! It wasn’t until the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality cleaned and renovated the site that visitors were able to witness its true beauty when it was reopened to the public in 1987.

Today, walking through this magnificent underground palace will leave you mesmerized – seeing ghostly carp swimming around under vaulted ceilings dripping with water will make you feel transported back to centuries ago where life revolved around these ancient structures built so long ago, but still standing strong today thanks largely to the efforts made to preserve them over the years gone by.

Every couple of minutes the light changes, which gives this unique highlight of Istanbul a different atmosphere and many more photo opportunities.

Is photography allowed in the Sunken Palace Basilica Cistern?

Yes, photography is allowed inside the Sunken Palace Basilica Cistern. Actually you should plan in some extra time during your visit if you are into photography. There are so many photo opportunities, as the changing light creates different atmosphere. There are as well art pieces nicely placed in the water, which provide even more photo opportunities.

Paths are cleverly designed so people don’t block your view as you shoot from different angles. You’ll want to snap away at this beautiful spot and capture every possible color variation.

White atmosphere at the Sunken Palace Basilica Cistern in Istanbul, Turkey.
White atmosphere at the Sunken Palace Basilica Cistern in Istanbul, Turkey.

What can you expect at the Sunken Palace Basilica Cistern?

The two heads of Medusa

Walk all the way down to the far left corner of the cistern. You’ll get an amazing view of two Medusa heads casually used as column bases – one upside down and the other tilted on its side. It’s still unclear where they came from or how they got there, but rumor has it that they were recycled from an ancient building in late Roman times.

Background story of Medusa

Medusa was once a beautiful sea nymph who caught the eye of Poseidon and made love to him in the temple of Athena, infuriating her so much that she turned Medusa into a monstrous beast with snakes for hair and a face that could turn people to stone just by looking at them!

In fact, during the Byzantine period, it was common practice to engrave the image of Medusa on sword hilts or place them upside down at the base of columns so as not to cause harm by turning people into statues!

Perseus eventually beheaded her in her sleep and even used her head as a weapon until he returned it to Athena, who placed it on her shield.

Interestingly enough, when Medusa was decapitated after earlier coupling with Poseidon; Pegasus (a winged horse) emerged along with Chrysaor – the golden sword bearer we know little about today!

Throughout history, both past and present have used images of Medusan faces against evil forces.

Two heads of Medusa at the Sunken Palace Basilica Cistern in Istanbul, Turkey.
Two heads of Medusa at the Sunken Palace Basilica Cistern in Istanbul, Turkey.

Column of tears

There’s a column in the cistern known as the “Weeping Column” or “Column of Tears”. It got this name because it stays wet all year round and has tear-shaped patterns on its surface. Unlike the other pillars in the cistern, this one is always wet!

Columns of tears at the Sunken Palace Basilica Cistern in Istanbul, Turkey.
Columns of tears at the Sunken Palace Basilica Cistern in Istanbul, Turkey.

Exhibition

Explore the ‘Deeper Beneath‘ exhibit at the Basilica Cistern Museum! Thanks to extensive restoration work, visitors are offered an exciting new exhibit with a modern approach.

Deeper Into” takes you on a mysterious journey through time as you marvel at the works of Ali Abayoğlu, Aslı İrhan, Berkay Buğdan and many others. The art displayed here is inspired by the life-giving water – just as creativity can inspire us all!

The historical significance of this cistern makes it an ideal setting for contemporary art exhibitions; come and see what artists have created in response to its rich past.

As you explore the works, you’ll also have the unique opportunity to see the story of the Basilica Cistern unfold through an immersive digital video mapping experience that takes you from its rich history to the present day.

Jelly fishes at the Sunken Palace Basilica Cistern in Istanbul, Turkey.
Jelly fishes at the Sunken Palace Basilica Cistern in Istanbul, Turkey.

Cisterns in Istanbul

Istanbul has a rich history of cisterns dating back to the time when it was known as Constantinople. With limited sources of fresh water, the locals were forced to collect and store water for future use. The Byzantines ingeniously constructed aqueducts and reservoirs (cisterns) that were used in conjunction with each other, providing clean rainwater or supplying fresh water through an intricate network system.

Each cistern had its own unique design – some collected rainwater, while others relied on piped supply systems. They could be found under fortresses, palaces, churches, and even wealthy homes throughout the city.

While many have dried up over time or fallen into disrepair, there are still several underground cistern museums worth visiting today! These important sites offer visitors a glimpse into Istanbul’s fascinating past while providing a refreshing break from modern life above ground.

Istanbul Combo Tour: Hagia Sophia & Basilica Cistern

Discover 2 of the TOP attractions in Istanbul: Hagia Sophia & The Basilica Cistern

Experience Istanbul’s top attractions without the hassle and stress with this Combo Ticket! You’ll skip the long lines and enjoy fast entry to two must-see sites: Hagia Sophia, once the largest Christian church in the world for a millennium before becoming a mosque 500 years ago, and the Basilica Cistern, an underground water reservoir that is over 1,500 years old.

The English-speaking guide will provide you with all the essential information and insider tips you need to get the most out of your visit. And if English isn’t your first language, don’t worry – we’ve got you covered with our audio app, available in seven different languages!

Located next to each other on Sultanahmet Square in the Old City of Istanbul, these iconic landmarks are truly unmissable sights on any trip here.

Meet your guide at Yeşil Evi in Sultanahmet Square and they’ll take care of everything from there. Your licensed tour guide will show you the highlights, then let you explore more at your own pace with our exciting, story-filled audio guides.

With this convenient package offered by Istanbul Welcome Card local guides, you will not only save time but also money while enjoying some unforgettable experiences!

This great combo deal has two different options to choose from

Option 1: You can enjoy both tours in just three hours with the same guide, making it super convenient.

Option 2: If you prefer a more relaxed pace, split the tours over two days and explore at your own pace. Your friendly guides are easy to spot as they carry flags at each attraction.

Plus, so that your trip to Istanbul will be amazing, they offer skip-the-line tickets and fast-track entry (excluding Hagia Sophia). With the local specialists guiding you through iconic sites like Hagia Sophia and the Basilica Cisterns, using the audio app on your smartphone is a breeze – even before you leave home!

We hope this adds up to an unforgettable experience during your stay in Istanbul!

Book this tour here!

Premium Card: Sunken Palace Basilica Cistern, Hagia Sophia, the Topkapi Palace, Bosphorus Cruise, Audio Guide App and Public Transportation Card

Price: €86

Discount: 5%

  • Bestseller Tour
  • Instant Confirmation
  • Free Cancelation
  • Directly Available

You may cancel these tickets up to 48 hours prior to the start of the experience to receive a full refund.

This VIP combo ticket will save you time and money as it allows you to easily visit Hagia Sophia, Topkapi Palace and the Sunken Palace, plus doing a Bosporus Cruise. And it’s handy, as it includes 10 rides with the public transport, so that you’ll get to the different sights easily.

After your reservation, you will receive a confirmation with meeting places and times, as well as download details for the Audio Apps. Your guide will meet you in front of Topkapi Palace, Hagia Sophia and the Basilica Cistern.

You will skip the ticket lines (except Hagia Sophia) and enjoy a 30 min highlights tour with a licensed local tour guide inside each museum. Afterwards, you can stay at each sight as long as you want and listen to exciting stories in your included audio guide apps on your smartphone.

Book this tour here!

The Premium Card is valid for 7 days

You can visit all three museums in one day or at different days. Your name will be on the list for seven days. Simply arrive at the available times at the meeting points and visit with your Istanbul Welcome Card guide.

View onto the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, Turkey.
View onto the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, Turkey.

Highlights of Istanbul with the Premium Card

  • Skip the Line Service and all Ticket & Entry Fees
  • Hagia Sophia Highlights Tour & Audio Guide
  • Topkapi Palace Highlights Tour & Audio Guide
  • Basilica Cistern Highlights Tour
  • Unlimited stay inside each Museum
  • 90 min. Bosphorus Cruise & Audio Guide
  • 10 Rides with Public Transportation
  • Digital Guide Book and Map

Note, that you can’t skip the Line Service for Hagia Sophia and at the entrance into Harem of the Topkapi Palace.

Important information

You can skip ticket lines with guides, but can not skip the security lines.

Your advantages

  • Be flexible: You determine the start time and pace
  • Individual travel: You don’t depend on a group!
  • User friendly
Colorful light at the Sunken Palace Basilica Cistern in Istanbul, Turkey.
Colorful light at the Sunken Palace Basilica Cistern in Istanbul, Turkey.

Conclusion

Overall, visiting the Basilica Cistern (The Sunken Palace) is an unforgettable experience that should not be missed during your trip to Istanbul.

By following these simple steps to purchase your tickets and knowing what to expect, you can make the most of your visit and fully appreciate the beauty and history of this ancient wonder.

So don’t hesitate to add the Basilica Cistern to your Istanbul itinerary and get ready for an adventure that will take you back in time!

Author

  • Travel Dudes

    I'm sure you've had similar experiences I had whilst traveling. You're in a certain place and a fellow traveler, or a local, tip you off on a little-known beach, bar or accommodation. Great travel tips from other travelers or locals always add something special to our travels. That was the inspiration for Travel Dudes.