A city as ancient as Istanbul has many layers of history, and you’ll have to go underground to see the Basilica Cistern, the largest of the underground cisterns. Built in the sixth century for the Byzantine Emperor, the atmospheric reservoir is supported by 336 columns, many of which have been repurposed from other building ruins over the centuries. The Medusa-head column bases are a favorite to photograph and contemplate, along with the carp that swim silently in the dimly lit waters. The cistern is located between the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia, pop in whenever the line looks short and especially on a hot, summer day (it’s always cooler underground).
By Meg Nesterov, AFAR Local Expert
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One of my favorite spots in Istanbul was underground. The impressive cistern system under the city is on display at the Basilica Cistern near the Hagia Sopia, but it's easy to miss. They've done an incredible job with the atmosphere down there with walkways above the water and around hundreds of columns lit from below. Perfect amount of spook and awe. Be sure to hunt down the Medusa capitals in the back.
By Kristin Rust, AFAR Local Expert
The Cistern is an incredible sight-- underground and from the 6th century, it's worth the 10 Liras to go in. Make sure you check out the upside down Medusa sculpture hidden in the back. Oh, and it's surprisingly not smelly. Check it out!
By Dani Vernon
This is absolutely my favorite place in Istanbul. The city is beautiful above ground but it is a whole other world below the surface.
By zosia Brown