This is probably one of the most common travel photos from Istanbul, Turkey you’ll find anywhere. The Basilica Cistern, built around the 3rd century, is an elegantly simple structure with the added bonus that it’s nearly impossible to take a bad photograph of. Everyone who visits does, and straight on from the entrance is the most popular and overdone shot; though too alluring to resist. These large columns, lit up in an eerie red reflecting off the shallow waters that flood the interior, are basically that. What you see is what you get – angle upon stone angle. Some columns toward the back of the cistern have upside-down Medusa heads, which are hyped enough by the signs and pamphlets to make them inevitably disappointing beyond the 20 Turkish lira entrance.
The site was originally the location of a Roman church, before being destroyed and converted into a water repository (aka. cistern). Though meandering around the narrow wooden walkways you’re likely to conjure up images of monks praying in solitude, the cistern had a much more practical purpose for most of its existence. The Byzantines and Ottomans both used it as a water filtration system, although how this was accomplished is neither explained nor obvious in the construction.
What Turkish authorities should really do is advertise the fact that you can’t take a bad (or even mediocre) picture of the Basilica Cistern, which sits underground right across from Hagia Sophia (immediately over the tram tracks facing it). The Basilica Cistern can be easy to miss however, since the entrance is hardly remarkable, if not a bit creepy to be honest.
You can see more of my pictures from the Basilica Cistern and the rest of Istanbul here.
You’re right about tourists missing it…I mean, I’ve been there three years ago and I walked from the Grand Bazaar, visited Topkapi and Sultanahmet (Hagia Sophia was partially closed because they did some restoration work) and I had no idea the Basilica Cistern was right over there. Damn, now I feel sorry 🙁
There are hardly any signs indicating it’s there. One giant arrow and the words “Basilica Cistern” would probably have the number of visitors jump immediately! Now that you know it’s there however, maybe time to plan another trip!? 🙂
Heh, I was actually considering another trip to Istanbul this summer, but I haven’t decided yet. But if I go there, maybe I won’t miss the Basilica this time 🙂
That shot is irresistable! I have one myself 😉 It was tremendously eerie and cool to be down there and think about it’s ancient past. I’m glad I found it. Cheers!
It is creepy a bit, I kept trying to imagine it at night when everyone has left. I’m still convinced some dark magic ceremonies take place there 😛
what an amazing Novel it would make….with the back drop of the basilica…dark magic ceremonies…etc.
Anil, as you know, I’m lovin your photos so I’ll not harp on too much about that! 🙂 (But that is a good photo!)
And yes, if we hadn’t known it was there when we went to Istanbul for the first time, we would have missed it.
We read recently that in future (which future, we don’t know? :)) tourist coaches are going to be rerouted around Sultanahmet because the basilica cistern is getting damaged from the constant vibrations of heavy vehicles passing by. Interesting…
Tesekkur ederim Julia 🙂 Strange (though not-so-much for Turkey) that the Basilica isn’t made more obvious to the thousands of travelers who must pass right by it in the summer months.
It’s amazing the Basilica is still there, it’s been renovated and restored many times over the past century; guess they’ll have to do another one. Interesting, I hadn’t heard that, but not difficult to imagine at all 🙂
This photograph is amazing! I have not been to Turkey yet but will make sure to not miss this sight. I love photos. They really do speak to me 🙂
Thanks Debbie, I’ve been trying to include more photos and have the foXnoMad be more visual, glad you like the changes 🙂
This is absolutely gorgeous and really does conjure up images of monks praying in solitude! The first time I ever heard of basilica cistern was embarrasingly enough on an episode of The Bachelorette, one of the date trips. I haven’t been to Istanbul yet but it’s on my bucket list! Also I had no clue this use to be a Roman church and even less of an idea as to why it was flooded with water but thanks to your explanation it all makes sense now! I would imagine that this place no matter what religion you are, no matter what your views on the politics of its creation is–how can you not marvel at it and envelope yourself in the silence? I’m not a religious person and like a lot of people my faith waivers, but I’ve sat in many, MANY cathedrals throughout Europe appreciating the silence that presents an opportunity for introspectiveness and some sort of greater-than-me spiritual connection. Really makes you pause.
haha, they went to the Basilica Cistern on a date? Interesting, though I can see how it could be romantic. Or haunted. I guess it depends on the time of day 🙂
I am not a religious man myself but did find something quite solemn about the Basilica Cistern. It’s the kind of place that seems to demand it from you in a roundabout way. You took the words right out of my mouth!
Love the way the arches reflect subtly in the water. Thanks for the heads up about this somewhat difficult to find site – it’s added to my Turkey list!
You’re welcome Barbara. The water certainly helps add to the effect and calm of the Cistern.
I love this shot; however, I’m extremely disappointed that I did NOT see this in ‘real life’ when I visited Istanbul. Horrors- I was too busy chasing visas for the next country! See this demands a ‘revisit’ for sure!!
It’s the big site many people tend to miss unfortunately…yet another good excuse to revisit 🙂
Stunning! I was just upstairs at breakfast (in Delhi) telling 2 people that Turkey infuses wonder at every turn. I would look one direction and see history and beauty all at once. I’d turn another direction and see it again.
This picture brings those memories back.
As extremely biased as I am in this matter, I cannot argue with that ninja!
Beautiful, that Basilica Cistern gives the chance for truly great shots.
It’s almost like cheating on the photography 😉
That’s a beautiful photo. Since I’ve yet to visit Istanbul, I’m putting a stop at the Basilica Cistern on my to travel list. I want to take that photo, too!
Thank you very much Donna…and when you do take that photo I want to see it!! 🙂
And while it is a popular shot, I never get tired of looking at it.
It’s the sort of place you just don’t want to leave after seeing it – we’ll trade pictures when you guys make it there 🙂
Its a deal!
You’re right, it’s irresistible – gorgeous shot here and as common as it may be, doesn’t mean it’s not gorgeous. I haven’t been yet but I love the total meditative calmness portrayed in the empty halls. 🙂
Thanks Shannon 🙂 I think there’s something to be said for tourist or travel sites/photos, etc. that are common. Many times there’s a good reason they’re so popular 🙂
Wow! That looks like such an interesting place. I’m glad I saw this so I know to visit it in the next few weeks when I am in Istanbul. Keep up the good work!
Thanks very much Hannah. Have a wonderful trip, and if you have any questions about it let me know 🙂
Oooh, great shot, thank you mentioning this I’ll have to take a peek the next time I’m in that section of Istanbul!
Thanks Catia! How long are you in Istanbul for?
Can’t wait to see it myself! Heading to Turkey next month.
Have a great trip!