Serefiye Cistern – The Legacy of Theodosius II

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Serifiye Cistern (Şerefiye Sarnıcı in Turkish) was built on the orders of Emperor Theodosius II who ruled Constantinople from 428 to 443 AD. It was constructed as a water depot to distribute supply to the inhabitants of Istanbul, then known as Constantinople. Fresh water was drawn from Belgrade Forest and its surrounds and reached the city via a 250km long series of canals leading to the Aqueduct of Valens, still visible today. The bridge, made up of arches, carried water across what is now Atatürk Bulvari and was built using stones from the walls of Chalcedon (modern day Kadikoy). From there it was piped through the city to numerous fountains, nymphaeum (artificial grottos dedicated to water nymphs), Zeuksippos Baths and various palaces. Named for its creator, the Serefiye Cistern, aka the Theodosius Cistern, together with Binbirdirek (Cistern of Philoxenos) built in the 4th century, and the more famous Yerebatan Cistern (Basilica Cistern) built in 532 AD, served the city’s water needs for hundreds of years.

Step into the Serefiye Underground Cistern
Entry to Serefiye Cistern

Like much of Istanbul’s history, the Serefiye Cistern was lost to view for many years. In the second decade of the 20th century, Arif Paşa Konak, a family mansion, was built over the top of the cistern.  Then in the 1950s the Eminönü Council building was erected on the site. In 2010 the Greater Istanbul City Council decided to knock the building down as part of a move to preserve the city’s historical buildings and monuments which is when Serifiye Cistern was rediscovered.

Serefiye underground cistern - an engineering marvel!
Brass rings around the columns in Serifiye Cistern

The Serefiye Cistern covers a space of 25 by 45 metres and has less columns than either Binbirdirek or Yerebatan Cisterns. Its roof is 9 metres high, supported by 32 marble columns. The day I saw it the cistern interior was host to an exhibition that was part of the 2018 Yeditepe Biennale. The cistern will continue to be used to house installations, exhibitions and cultural events.

Address: Binbirdirek Mahallesi, Piyer Loti Caddesi No. 23, 34122 Fatih/Istanbul, Turkey

Serifiye Cistern opening hours: 9.00-19.00, seven days a week. Entry price: 715tl


If you enjoyed this post and want to visit lesser known sites in the city, you find lots to discover in my guidebook Istanbul 50 Unsung Places.

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    1. It’s great to hear you find my site useful. Over the next few months I’ll be putting up more posts about old and new discoveries in the city. Happy travels.

    1. It’s in Istanbul, near Sultanahmet where the main monuments are. I’ve put the address at the bottom of the post so if you check it in Google map you’ll be able to see where it is. It’s really stunning.

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