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Istanbul’s Mysterious Basilica Cistern

Hidden beneath the streets of Istanbul is the astonishing, hauntingly beautiful Basilica Cistern, a 6th-century relic that was almost lost to time. Step into its shadowy depths with Karine Hagen to explore this cavernous basin’s many secrets.

image/text credit: Viking Ocean Cruises

The entrance to the Basilica Cistern is in the Sultanahmet region, next to Haghia Sophia. The cistern was built during the reign of Emperor Justinian I in 532 to meet the water needs of the Palace.

Make sure you walk all the way to the far left-hand corner of the cistern, to see the two Medusa heads (see pictures of the Basilica Cistern). Both heads are casually used as column bases; one positioned upside down, the other tilted to the side.


The Basilica Cistern was given its name for the reason of being located under the Stoa Basilica. Both their positioning as their origin remain a mystery up till now, although rumor has it that they were recycled form an antique building of the late Roman period.