Underground Cistern

Underground Cistern – Near St. Sophia is the 6th century Byzantine cistern known as the Yerebatan Sarayi or Sunken Palace. 336 massive Corinthian columns support the immense chamber’s fine brick vaulting and stand in a depth of water that stretches for miles underground.

The Underground Cistern is one of the most impressive and unique sites of Istanbul.

It was built by the Byzantine emperor Justinian in 532 AD. The cisterns were important water supplies of Constantinople.

The Underground Cistern was built between two valleys and supported using 336 Corinthian and Doric columns. Each of the columns is 9 meters high and were erected at 4.80 meters intervals from each other.  The columns are composed of 12 rows having 28 columns each. The cistern cover 98000 m2 and the estimated water storage was about 100000 tons.

The most interesting part of the cistern is the Medusa heads used to support 2 columns. Despite the legends about the Medusa heads it is obvious that these were placed there for support purposes only.

After the conquest of Constantinople by the Ottomans in 1453 the cistern was only used for the gardens of the Topkapi Palace. It is believed that according to the Islamic traditions where only running water is considered clean the Ottomans were not using stored water.

The Underground Cistern was forgotten until the mid 16th century when P. Gyllius, a Dutch traveler discovered it. P. Gyllius was a researcher who traveled to Constantinople for the remaining monuments of the Byzantine Empire.

The cistern has been through some renovations since then. The first known renovation was in 1723 during the reign of Ahmet III. The other renovation was in the 19th century. In 1987 the Underground Cistern was cleaned by the Municipality and opened as a museum. Since then the Underground Cistern one of the major sites that is visited by travellers. It has its own unique and mysterious environment that makes its guests’ stay in Istanbul memorable.

For more information about this monument and any other sites in Istanbul please contact us. We would be more than glad to assist you and show you the best sites of Istanbul.