Europe 2016 Day 12.3: Basilica Cistern


My 3rd stop of the day is a rather unique place. Unique because this is a place that you either pay to see it (20 TL), or do not pay to not see it. There is no option where you do not pay and yet see it.

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If you do not pay, this is all you see: a small, boring, featureless garden
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And so… pay I did
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And down the stairs I went
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And voila! Now I see it!

The Basilica Cistern, ladies and gentlemen. A cistern means a covered reservoir, and this place’s Turkish name is Yerebatan Sarayi. Sunken Palace. So you now understand why if you do not pay and choose to stay outside, above ground, you’ll get to see nothing of this place.

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This is a very wet place, surrounded by water

The reason this place is called the Basilica Cistern is because when this place was first built, there was a basilica on top of the cistern. But the basilica was destroyed by a fire and they never got to rebuild it. So now, only the cistern is left.

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Some history of the place
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Original floor plan of the place
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I was pretty disappointed because the moment I stepped off the stairs, first thing I saw was this: tourist photo booth.
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Hmm… I thought the guy looked somewhat like Brad Pitt

To be honest, there’s not much to see. The place is basically a few pathways surrounded by water in the dark, and you kind of just wander around. Also, the place being dark is probably another reason why there’s nothing much to see. This place is mostly about feeling with all your other senses.

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The place is NOT this bright

Don’t be fooled by my pictures. This is all thanks to my camera having superpowers to turn the dark into light. When you are actually here, the place is really dark. I mean really dark. Imagine going out to the streets in a moonless night and half of the street lamps are not working. That’s how it feels to be in here.

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No, really NOT this bright!

The only things to see in here are the two columns with Medusa heads at the base.

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Medusa head #1 – upside down
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Medusa head #2 – sideways

There was a tour group nearby so I sneaked up to listen to what the tour guide was saying. Apparently, the reason why these Medusa heads are so popular is because one was built upside down and another was built sideways, and according to the tour guide, this is a very big mystery worth the intrigue.

I thought it was all a bunch of crap. The ancient architects probably just wanted to be playful and creative when designing these columns. They’re probably laughing out loud in the heavens seeing these columns being glorified to lure in the tourists.

Apart from these Medusa heads, there’s… nothing else actually. More water, more dark pathways, more columns.

I get it, this place is unique. It feels completely different compared to sightseeing in the Topkapi Palace for example. What I don’t get is how so many tourists leave comments in TripAdvisor saying this place is so worth it and that there’s so much to see in here.

Dude, it’s so dark in here, you can’t see much at all!

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20 TL for the ticket, and 30 minutes later, I’m headed for the exit

I suppose I’m glad that I came to this underground cistern, and I’d agree that this is an interesting place to see visit. Shall I recommend it? Hmm… that’s a tough question. You read what I thought about this place and make your own decision… 🙄


  1. This place would be interesting for me even though you ranted nothing much to see. I love the many tall pillars and could spend hours looking at cracks and blank walls. LOL
    I am baffled with the Medusa heads too. I think it was placed there on purpose.

  2. Wasehhh, the pillars surrounded by water looks like Resident Evil playstation punyer scenes, memang exactly like that, with zombie suddenly appearing from down there..About Medusa’s head, I agree with you, in fact I’m laughing because I feel the same, just that I dare not type out only, you said crap, I’d say it’s nonsense la, where got such “mystery” one hard built upside down and the other sideways.. All I know about Medusa is the hair full of live snakes and Uma Thurman is the sexy Medusa in the Percy Jackson movie..

    • You say like this, people read your comment will be scared to go now, walk every step will worry about zombies. Luckily I go already.. 😛

    • Because it is a cistern. Cistern = water reservoir. This place provides water supply to the surrounding area. 🙂

  3. When you showed the water on the ground and around the columns, I thought that would be very nice to see. But if it’s as you said, dark and dim until you can barely see anything, then I really am thinking, what’s the point. I would have used my phone’s torch to shine around 🙄

    • I think the dimness is the whole point of the experience, furthermore the place is quite wide open, I don’t think a flashlight will do much good.. 🙄

  4. For someone who avoids being underground when she can, I don’t think I’ll want to pay this place a visit (for now). =( I’m not claustrophobic, but it’s always the ‘what if’ hypothetical question…

    • Not much different compared to being inside a building that is above ground if you ask me. If there’s a terrible earthquake, you’d die regardless..

  5. I would love to see this place. So special. Must bring a torchlight and go exploring until lost the way in the pathways and columns and forever wandering in the cistern with no way out.

    • You won’t get lost lah, it is dark, but not completely dark dark, and the place is not big also. Not to mention there are tonnes of other tourists wandering around.

  6. ok, it seems like not worth it. I rather enjoy a cuppa for 20TL while waiting for anyone who spent about the same for exploring a non-working cistern…OK OK, perhaps if without these pictures I will also be paying it just for the sake of curiousity…well it may not be as great as Hagia Sophia, but u gotta see the ancient architecture and learned the history of it. Shit, now I m in dilemma!

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