Binbirdirek Cistern (Philoxenos) in Istanbul: history, open hours 2023
Binbirdirek is the second largest underground cistern in Istanbul, after the Basilica cistern.
Istanbul’s famous Cistern of Philoxenos is situated between the Hippodrome of Constantinople and the Forum of Constantine. The subterranean man-made reservoir can be found in the city’s Sultanahmet District.
The fully restored tourist attraction is open to visitors and is a must-see for historical buffs and culture vultures on a trip to Istanbul.
It’s known, that there are a lot of cisterns under the Sultanahmet area, but they were not found untill now, except famous Basilica, Theodosius, Philoxenos and some small cisterns such as Nakkaş and Sultan sarnıç.
Here’s some interesting facts, history and working hours of the Binbirdirek Cistern museum.
The history of the Cistern of Philoxenos (Binbirdirek sarnıcı)
The Cistern of Philoxenos dates back to the 5th century during the Byzantine period at the time of Constantine. It is slightly off the main tourist trail in Istanbul making a trip to the ancient man-made reservoir a great way to get away from the crowds and over-touristed sites.
The cistern is known as the Binbirdirek cistern in Turkish. In English, the name means 1001 Columns. While the Cistern of Philoxenos doesn’t actually contain 1001 columns, it does possess 224. The reason that Binbirdirek translate to 1001 columns in English is due to it being a “turn of phrase”. The phrase “binbir” is used to express numerous items. The term was used to name the cistern to make it attractive and provocative rather than to describe it accurately.
Each column stands at a height of 10 meters tall. Interestingly, many of the columns have a Greek mason’s logo or signature engraved on them.
Justinian I oversaw the restoration of the cistern at some point in the 6th century. The Palace was destroyed by fire in 475. The Ottomans conquered Constantinople (Istanbul) in 1453. In 16th century the water in the cistern dryed out and Binbirdirek fell into disrepair. It was even used as a silk spinning workshop for a time by the Ottomans rather than to house water. Due to being in poor shape, the cistern was completely forgotten until the construction of Fazli Pasha Palace in the 17th century.
Binbirdirek Cistern today
In modern times, the Cistern of Philoxenos has hosted a number of events including exhibitions, concerts, fashion shows, weddings, and more. Since its renovation, it has become a popular place to host parties thanks to its incredible atmosphere and look. Many visitors claim the cistern has an eerie vibe.
But nowadays it was reopened for visitors like a museum, so we can enjoy it’s great interior and freshy air in hot summer days.
The legendary Cistern of Philoxenos is found beneath Justice Palace in the Sultanahmet District. Standing in the public square, you would hardly believe the Cistern of Philoxenos is beneath your feet. Compared to the more famous tourist site of Basilica Cistern, the Cistern of Philoxenos is smaller. But what it lacks in size, the cistern makes up for in atmosphere and a lack of tourists. You may not need to stand in a queue to get inside.
According to Istanbul Provincial Culture and Tourism Director Coşkun Yılmaz, there are up to 100 cisterns underneath the streets of the city. The Cistern of Philoxenos is one of the most famous and despite being off of the tourist trail, it is a destination you don’t want to miss.
How to get to the Cistern of Philoxenos
The Binbirdirek cistern is located in historical part of Istanbul — Sultanahmet area, not far from Basilica and Theodosius cistern.
If you walk up the street from Sultanahmet tram station to Beyazit tram station, take the left side of the street. The the first turn to left, where the road level is lower then another one, and walk about 1 minute.
The tourist site is closed on Mondays and open on other days through all week from 09:00 a.m. to 17:00 p.m. Entry fee is 100 TL.