Theodosius (Şerefiye) Cistern in Istanbul: history and laser show
Constantinople, today — Istanbul, is full of different discoveries, one of them was Theodosius cistern, which was opened for visitors in 2018 as a museum.
The Theodosius Cistern lies beneath the ancient city of Istanbul. Known as Şerefiye Sarnıcı in Turkish, Theodosius Cistern is one of many cisterns that are underground, unbeknownst to those who walk around on the surface of the city.
It is assumed that all of the cisterns that lie under Sultanahmet area — Basilica cistern (Yerebatan), cistern of of Philoxenos (Binbirdirek), Theodosius (Şerefiye) and many other, unknown cisterns were all connected together to one water supply system. The part of this system was also Valens aqueduct.
The history of the Theodosius Cistern
In May 2018, the Theodosius Cistern opened for visitors to explore. The cistern is more than 1,600-years-old and is a glimpse into the past of Istanbul. It is an example of the infrastructure that developed in and around Istanbul by the Byzantine and was further developed and protected by the Ottoman Empire as it took over the area.
It is believed that the Theodosius Cistern was built during the reign of Theodosius II. The Byzantine emperor ruled from 428 to 443 AD. The Theodosius Cistern took around 15 years to complete. Its importance, and those of the other cisterns, were paramount for the local governments as it provided the center of the city with drinkable water.
The cistern was discovered under an early 20th century mansion and government building during construction in 1950. In 2010, the government building was demolished and the Theodosius Cistern was restored over the course of eight years. The Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality, the Turkish Ministry of Culture and Tourism, and the General Directorate of Foundations carried out the restoration work on the cistern.
What is the Theodosius Cistern?
The Theodosius Cistern measures 1,125 square-meters. It has a nine-meter-high ceiling with 32 marble columns holding it up. Although it is smaller than the Basilica Cistern (Yerebatan Sarnıcı), it is 100 years older. The Basilica Cistern was constructed in 532 AD and is currently one of Istanbul’s most popular tourist attractions.
Along with the Basilica Cistern and Cistern of Philoxenos, the Theodosius Cistern carried water from the Belgrad forest in the northern regions of Istanbul to the Aqueducts of Valens and on to the drinking fountains found around Istanbul.
Today you can enjoy a laser show with 360° projection mapping about Istanbul’s history and the history of water in this city. Each show starts every 2 hours, you can visit all two at once or buy a ticket just for one of them. Or you can just purchase a ticket just to visit the cistern without any show — it’s up to you.
Why was the Theodosius Cistern constructed?
When Byzantium was established, the city had just a few thousand residents and drinkable water was not a problem. However, over the years as the city transformed into Constantinople and was the second capital of the Roman Empire, the population exploded.
The rise in people living in Constantinople meant that there was a lack of drinkable water. This resulted in the city building cisterns to allow water to flow into it from a source elsewhere. There are multiple cisterns underneath Istanbul and many can be visited by travelers. The Theodosius Cistern is claimed to be one of the most valuable in terms of what can be learned from its history.
Where is the Theodosius Cistern?
Visitors can locate the Theodosius Cistern in old city if Sultanahmet, Çemberlitaş District at Piyer Loti Caddesi 23. It opens each day allowing visitors inside for 350 liras. In addition, the Istanbul Pass cannot be used to enter the attraction.
There is also a small coffee shop in the building so you can drink a cup of coffee while your wait for the laser show.
The landmark opens at 9 AM and closes at 7 PM. The historical landmark also hosts a variety of exhibits and events as well. Travelers visiting the Grand Bazaar can reach the cistern quickly and explore it on a day out.