Yerebatan Sarayı – “Sunken Palace” – otherwise known as the Basilica Cistern – is the largest ancient cisterns found in Istanbul. The Basilica Cistern was built in 542 by the Byzantine Emperor Justinian I to provide water to the ‘Great Palace of Constantinople’. The Ottomans also used the Basilica Cistern following the conquest of Istanbul to provide water to Topkapi Palace.
One of the columns is engraved with raised pictures of a Hen’s Eye, slanted branches, and tears. It is suggested that the tears on the column pay tribute to the hundreds of slaves who died while constructing of the cistern.
Two upside-down statue head of Medusa can be found at the far end of the cistern. While the reason behind the use of the statues is unknown, it is thought that that Byzantine builders saw Roman relics as little more than reusable rubble. Another theory is that the blocks are oriented sideways and inverted in order to negate the power of Medusa’s gaze.
How to get there:
Basilica Cistern is located in Sultanahmet Square. The easiest way to reach the underground cistern is by taking a tram to Sultanahmet.
9am-6.30pm mid-Apr–Sep, till 5.30pm Nov–mid-Apr.
Entrance fee is 20 Turkish Lira.