Istanbul, Basilica Cistern restoration

Spectacular: this is how the Istanbul’s Basilica Cistern looks after its restoration

From tomorrow, tourists can visit the Basilica Cistern of Istanbul, after 5 years closed due to its first restoration in five centuries.

Istanbul’s Basilica Cistern, located in the historic Sultanahmet neighbourhood and one of the city’s most visited monuments, looks spectacular after undergoing its first restoration in 500 years, according to images and videos released by the Istanbul Metropolitan City Council, which has also confirmed the date of the opening of the monument to tourist visits.

As reported by various Turkish media citing municipal sources, the Basilica Cistern (Yerebatan Sarnıcı, in Turkish), 15 centuries old, will be opened to the public tomorrow, July 23, after the end of the restoration that began in 2017. From then on, the monument will remain open to the public every day from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

During the restoration works, the structure of the cistern was reinforced to make it resistant to earthquakes, especially after structural problems were detected during the works that put it in danger of collapse. In addition, access to the monument for visitors has been modified to make it easier, covering the entrance with glass panels and creating a waiting room.

A “forest” of 336 columns dreamed by Emperor Justinian

Currently located several meters below ground next to Hagia Sophia, the Basilica Cistern was built in a few months in the year 532 during the reign of Justinian I, and was the largest of the 60 byzantine cisterns built in ancient Constantinople to store water during the sieges of the city. After the fall of Constantinople in 1453 at the hands of the Ottoman Turks, the place was forgotten, although for centuries the inhabitants of the historic district of Fatih continued to fish in the cellars of their houses, surprised by the continuous supply of water they received without knowing its origin.

Reopened to the public in the 20th century, initially it could only be visited by boat until a system of walkways was built in 1987, that is still in use today. The impressive monument has an area of ​​8,678 square meters (but not all of them can be visited) and has the capacity to hold about 100,000 cubic meters of water, although it currently barely covers one meter. The water that fed the cistern came from the Belgrade Forest and was brought by an aqueduct built by Emperor Justinian.

In its impressive structure, stands out a roof made up of vaults and supported by a forest of 336 columns, each 9 meters high, mainly taken from ancient pagan temples in Asia Minor (Anatolia). Visitors are especially struck by the presence of two column bases in the shape of the head of Medusa, considered Roman sculptural masterpieces and surrounded by legends about their origin, which as today remains a mistery.

Tickets to contemplate the spectacular restoration of the Istanbul Basilica Cistern, can be purchased directly at the monument’s ticket office (there is no online sale option) at the price of 50 TL (2.75 euros) for local visitors, 190 TL ( 10.5 euros) for foreign tourists, and 20 TL (1 euro) for students and teachers (credit cards are accepted). Since the monument is managed by the Istanbul Metropolitan City Council and not the Ministry of Culture, the Museum Card (Müze Kart) is not accepted.