Venture beneath the bustling streets of Istanbul and uncover a world of subterranean marvels. Istanbul’s underground attractions offer a unique glimpse into the city’s rich history and diverse cultural influences. From ancient cisterns to mysterious palaces and hidden art galleries, there’s no shortage of fascinating discoveries awaiting those who dare to delve below the surface. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll explore underground Istanbul and its mesmerizing attractions, providing you with all the essential information for an unforgettable underground tour.

Beneath the Surface: Underground Istanbul Tours

Basilica Cistern: A Mysterious Ancient Reservoir

The Basilica Cistern, an architectural masterpiece, dates back to the 6th century during the Byzantine Empire. This colossal underground reservoir was designed to store fresh water for the Great Palace and surrounding buildings, showcasing the ingenuity of ancient engineering. In modern times, it has become a must-see Istanbul underground attraction, enticing visitors with its eerie atmosphere and fascinating history.

Architectural Features: A Symphony of Columns and Vaults

The Basilica Cistern’s striking design features 336 marble columns, each with unique carvings and styles, supporting an expansive vaulted ceiling. Among these columns, the famous Medusa heads add an air of mystery to the cistern, sparking countless theories about their origin and purpose.

Visiting Hours: Every Day of the Week, 09:00 – 19:00
Ticket Price: 300 TL

Enjoy Free Entry to the Basilica Cistern and a Guided Tour with Istanbul E-Pass

The Istanbul E-Pass is a valuable option for travelers, as it offers free entry and guided tours to the Basilica Cistern, along with 50+ other attractions, providing a convenient and cost-effective way to explore the city.

Theodosius Cistern: A Lesser-Known Marvel

The Theodosius Cistern, a lesser-known but equally impressive subterranean marvel, was built during the reign of Emperor Theodosius II. Its primary purpose was to provide a reliable water supply to the nearby Hippodrome and surrounding buildings.

Exploring the Depths: A Glimpse into the Past

Within this spacious underground chamber, you’ll find a forest of columns adorned with intricate carvings, echoing the grandeur of the past. The cistern’s serene atmosphere is further enhanced by a charming, dimly-lit ambience, providing an intimate experience of Istanbul’s underground history.

Visiting Hours: Daily from 09:00 to 22:00.
Ticket Price: 275 TL

Enjoy Free Entry to the Theodosius Cistern and a Guided Tour with Istanbul E-Pass

The Istanbul E-Pass is a valuable option for travelers, as it offers free entry and guided tours to the Theodosius Cistern, along with 50+ other attractions, providing a convenient and cost-effective way to explore the city.

The Binbirdirek Cistern: A Subterranean Legacy

The Binbirdirek Cistern, also known as the “Cistern of Philoxenos,” boasts a unique design with more than 200 columns supporting its roof. This Roman-era underground waterway was an essential component of Istanbul’s ancient infrastructure.

Nakkas Cistern: An Atmospheric Subterranean Space

The Nakkas Cistern’s rich history dates back to the Byzantine Empire, with its construction attributed to Emperor Justinian I. This atmospheric subterranean space has witnessed centuries of Istanbul’s turbulent past, providing an immersive experience for those who venture below.

Distinctive Features: A World of Intrigue

What sets the Nakkas Cistern apart from other underground attractions in Istanbul is its unique blend of architectural elements. The cistern boasts an array of fascinating carvings and sculptures, revealing the artistry and craftsmanship of ancient builders.

And the bonus: it’s free!

Gülhane Sanat (Cistern): A Cultural and Artistic Haven

The Gülhane Sanat Cistern, once a functional water storage facility, has undergone a remarkable transformation into a unique cultural space. Today, it serves as an underground art gallery, hosting a diverse range of exhibitions and events that capture the essence of Istanbul’s thriving art scene.

Art Exhibitions and Events: A Creative Nexus

Within the atmospheric confines of the Gülhane Sanat Cistern, you’ll find a rotating selection of contemporary art exhibitions, showcasing the talent of local and international artists. The cistern also hosts a variety of cultural events, such as concerts and performances, making it a dynamic hub for creative expression.

Cistern of Aetius: A Marvel of Ancient Engineering

The Cistern of Aetius, also known as the Cistern of Philoxenos, is a hidden gem that often goes overlooked by tourists. This ancient Roman-era cistern features a unique design, with a series of domed vaults and rows of columns supporting the roof.

One of the most fascinating features of the Cistern of Aetius is its advanced hydraulic system, which allowed water to be distributed throughout the city. The cistern played a crucial role in Istanbul’s ancient infrastructure, providing a reliable source of water for centuries.

Nakilbent Cistern: A Hidden Oasis

Nakilbent Cistern, also known as the “Hidden Oasis,” is a serene underground space that provides a welcome respite from the city’s bustling streets. This Ottoman-era cistern features a stunning array of columns and arches, with a tranquil pool of water at its center.

The cistern’s unique design is thought to have served as a cooling system for nearby buildings during the hot summer months. Today, the Nakilbent Cistern offers visitors a chance to escape the heat and experience the calming beauty of Istanbul’s underground world.

Mangure Palace: A Royal Underground Complex

The enigmatic Mangure Palace, a royal underground complex, was constructed during the Byzantine Empire to serve as a fortified refuge for the city’s ruling elite. Although its existence remained shrouded in mystery for centuries, recent excavations have unveiled the palace’s hidden secrets.

Excavation and Restoration Efforts: Unveiling the Past

Ongoing archaeological efforts have unearthed a wealth of artifacts and architectural remnants, offering a rare glimpse into the lives of Byzantine royalty. Restoration projects are also underway, with the aim of eventually opening the palace to the public as a significant Istanbul underground attraction.

The Underground Mosque: A Sacred Hidden Treasure

The Underground Mosque, or “Yeraltı Camii,” is a captivating hidden treasure that lies beneath Istanbul’s bustling streets. Originally a Byzantine-era cistern, the space was later converted into a mosque, reflecting the city’s rich religious history and cultural transformation.

Read about the Greatest Mosques of Istanbul >>

Architectural Highlights: A Blend of Styles

The mosque’s architecture showcases a harmonious fusion of Byzantine and Ottoman design elements, with ornate archways and intricate tilework adorning its walls. The dimly-lit interior creates an atmosphere of tranquility and reverence, offering a unique and immersive experience for visitors.

The Mosaic Museum: Uncovering Byzantine Art (Temporarily Closed)

The Mosaic Museum, located within the Great Palace Mosaic Museum, is home to a stunning collection of Byzantine-era mosaics and artifacts. The museum’s mission is to preserve and showcase this priceless heritage, offering visitors a unique window into Istanbul’s past.

Notable Mosaics and Exhibits: A Feast for the Eyes

The museum’s collection includes some of the most significant Byzantine-era mosaics in the world, including the famous Great Palace Mosaic, which spans over 250 square meters. The intricate details and vivid colors of these ancient artworks are a testament to the skill and artistry of Byzantine craftsmen.


Istanbul’s underground attractions offer a mesmerizing journey through time, showcasing the city’s rich history and cultural influences. From ancient cisterns to hidden palaces, each subterranean space has a unique story to tell, offering visitors a chance to experience the city’s captivating past. By delving beneath the surface of Istanbul, you’ll discover a world of mystery and intrigue, making it an essential destination for any curious traveler seeking a truly unforgettable experience. So, plan your underground Istanbul tour today and get ready to explore this captivating world beneath the city.

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