Beneath Istanbul lie
hundreds of gloomy Byzantine cisterns.
They're left from the days when Istanbul
was Constantinople. Most large, important Byzantine buildings provided for storage of water beneath them.
grandest of all is the Basilica
Cistern (Yerebatan Sarnıç),
so called because it lay beneath
the Stoa Basilica, a grand Byzantine
public square. It's also called
Palace Cistern (Yerebatan
Saray Sarnıçı) because
that's what it looks like.
you call it, it's impressive because
of its size, measuring 138 meters
long and 64.6 meters wide, covering
nearly 1000 square meters (2.4 acres);
its capacity (80,000 cubic meters—over
21 million US gallons) and its 336
It's open every day of the week from 09:00 am to 18:30 (6:30 pm) in "summer" (undefined), till 17:30 (5:30 pm) in "winter" (also undefined on the cistern's website). On the first day of Islamic holidays and on January 1st (New Year's Day), it opens at 13:00 (1 pm).
Admission costs TL10. You'll probably want to stay anywhere from 30 minutes
to an hour.
the scene in the old James
Bond movie From Russia
With Love when Bond is rowing
in a small boat through a forest
of marble columns? That scene was filmed
Built by Justinian after 532, the
Basilica Cistern stored water for the
Great Palace and nearby buildings.
Lost to memory, it was rediscovered
by Petrus Gyllius, who came to Constantinople
in search of Byzantine monuments. Gyllius,
who noticed that local people got their
water by lowering buckets through holes
in the floors of their houses, found
an entrance and thus put it back on
Ottomans used it to supply Topkapı
used as a column pediment
Walkways and atmospheric
lighting were installed during
the 1990s so you can see all its
curious corners. Soft music plays
to create a mood. There's even
a little café for
drinks and snacks.
Square, at the northeastern end
of the Hippodrome,
just off Divan
Yolu, and across the street from Ayasofya (Hagia
Sophia) (map). The
entrance (see the photo to the right)
is on Yerebatan Caddesi; the exit
is opposite Ayasofya on
—by Tom Brosnahan