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Stillness and Silence at Theodosius Cistern.

Stillness and Silence at Theodosius Cistern.

Stillness and Silence at Theodosius Cistern.

September 2020.

Posted just over a month ago, readers may recall my article about the marvellous Basilica Cistern. One of Istanbul’s most absorbing historic sights, the cistern is just one of 70 giant underground reservoirs built by the city’s ancient Byzantine rulers in order to supply water to the palaces and its people.

The history of Basilica Cistern.

Basilica Cistern.

We loved our tour of the cistern. In fact, it left us hungry for similar sights in the Turkish capital. As it turned out, we were in luck. A bit of online research soon brought our attention to Theodosius Cistern, a site that had us excited for two reasons. 1: although smaller, it is actually older than Basilica Cistern. 2: Several reviews described it as “quiet” and somewhat “under the radar”. Music to our ears. 

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Stillness and Silence at Theodosius Cistern.

We arrived at Theodosius Cistern one afternoon to find a surprisingly modern structure. A whole different kettle of fish to The Basilica Cistern’s low-key brick and tile entrance.

Indeed the building opened as recently as 2018 to provide access to the newly restored cistern. Predominantly glass and steel on the outside, with dark wooden furnishings on the inside, the structure was erected by the renowned Turkish architect Cafer Bozkurt.

Stillness and Silence at Theodosius Cistern.

Visit Theodosius Cistern.

Stillness and Silence at Theodosius Cistern.

Inside there wasn’t a soul to be seen, except for the man who greeted us and took payment for the tickets. We paid 300 Lira each, that’s around $11.50 per person. Perhaps a little pricy, but understandable considering the attraction had only been open for a few years after a painstaking eight year renovation.

Turkey flag.

Descending a long wooden staircase, we felt the air rapidly cool and dampen and then… wow!!! … I don’t think we’d been at all prepared for the scene that awaited us. Firstly, it is a work of art, a dazzler for the eyeballs. A modern interpretation of the original space, certainly, but tastefully done I would say. They hadn’t, for example, gone for the dancing jellyfish approach of Basilica Cistern’s modern reboot.

Inside Theodosius Cistern.

Stillness and Silence at Theodosius Cistern.

Secondly, we had the entire chamber to ourselves. Just us and a near-perfect stillness and silence as we made our way through the forest of stone columns, home to over 1600 years of history.

The red brick walls of Theodosius Cistern.

Stillness and Silence at Theodosius Cistern.

The Roman Emperor Theodosius II oversaw the cistern’s construction, which took place between 428 and 443. For the history of the city’s cisterns and how they worked, see my original article on Basilica Cistern. 

Exploring Istanbul.

Review of Theodosius Cistern in Istanbul.

Stillness and Silence at Theodosius Cistern.

Like all of the old cisterns of Constantinople, Theodosius eventually fell into disrepair before being altogether abandoned. Swallowed up by the centuries, in 1904 it disappeared entirely when a wealthy family built a mansion over the top of it.

The amazing Theodosius Cistern.

One of the cistern’s gloriously flaky walls.

Later, in the 1950s, that same structure became a city council building. It was only rediscovered when local authorities demolished the old house in 2010, consequently stumbling upon the cistern’s remains.

The marble columns of Theodosius Cistern

Stillness and Silence at Theodosius Cistern.

Such is the magnitude of this history and the dramatic feel of the tightly-packed columns, Sladja and I didn’t realise what a deceptively small space the cistern is. Made of red brick and lined with hydraulic mortar, it covers an area of just 25 by 45 metres.

Theodosius Cistern Istanbul.

Stillness and Silence at Theodosius Cistern.

Moreover, there are just four rows of nine meter high columns in total. That’s 32 columns topped with Corinthian capitals that support the vaulted brick ceiling. A far cry then from the all-consuming jungle it felt like we were walking through that afternoon.

Stillness and Silence at Theodosius Cistern.

1600 years of history at Theodosius Cistern.

A perfect moment of peace in the Turkish capital.

As in Basilica Cistern, glass panels and a shallow pool of water separated us from the columns. The presence of coins in the water however, proved noticeably absent. As a result, the pool is perfectly clear, which makes for some pristine reflections in the water.

Theodosius Cistern when in Istanbul.

Stillness and Silence at Theodosius Cistern.

Before long Sladja and I had completed several loops of the cistern. And yet, mesmerised, we hung around for a bit listening to the occasional drips that could easily serve as a Calm soundscape.

And then, suddenly, I spied a couple coming down the stairs. Our private date with Theodosius Cistern was over. A good time, we guessed, to saunter over to the staircase and make our way back up to Istanbul and the intense September sunshine.

Exploring Theodosius Cistern.

Stillness and Silence at Theodosius Cistern.

Like this? Take a look at my series of articles on Istanbul.

I’ve been living, working and traveling all over the world since 2001. So why not check out my huge library of travel reports from over 30 countries.

Leighton Travels logo travel reports and short stories.


  • Destinations Journey

    Beautiful photos. Somewhere else I am going to have to visit.

    September 10, 2023 - 3:12 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Istanbul is packed with incredible historic sights. This one was particularly enjoyable as it was, at that time, wonderfully under the radar. Thanks for your comment!

      September 10, 2023 - 3:42 pm Reply
  • Anna

    Gorgeous photos Leighton! How lucky to have it all to yourselves!

    September 10, 2023 - 3:44 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Cheers Anna!

      September 10, 2023 - 3:55 pm Reply
  • christinenovalarue

    Waouh !

    September 10, 2023 - 4:26 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      C’est effectivement magnifique!

      September 10, 2023 - 5:26 pm Reply
  • Toonsarah

    That looks stunning, and how wonderful to have it to yourselves! I suspect when/if we get to Istanbul we’re going to find everywhere rather busier, even this.

    September 10, 2023 - 4:34 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Yeah, it’ll almost certainly be busier. Moreover, I can imagine that, being such a small space, it easily gets overrun. In fact, I wonder if they stagger entry during peak hours. Thanks for dropping in Sarah.

      September 10, 2023 - 5:27 pm Reply
  • kagould17

    Absolutely stunning for a purpose built structure. So glad it was rediscovered and restored. The modern entrance hall does seem a little out of place. What a wonderful experience to be able to enjoy this place ion solitude. Thanks for sharing Leighton. Have a great Sunday. Allan

    September 10, 2023 - 5:37 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      I’m glad its appeal shone through, thanks for checking in, Allan. Our Sunday was a work day sadly, but tomorrow is our weekend so to speak. Cheers!

      September 10, 2023 - 5:44 pm Reply
  • Memo

    It’s hard not to overuse superlatives here. I enjoyed the glass art installation of the exterior and then the punch in the eye from the interiors. The use of the polished metal certainly highlights the columns and the space. It looks massive because of all the reflections. I’m always amazed at how you manage to keep the crowds at bay until you are finished. Glad to have you back.

    September 10, 2023 - 5:53 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Ha, the crowds forcefield was just dumb luck. Right place at the right time and all that. Thanks for the positive words Memo, will be in touch soon by email.

      September 10, 2023 - 7:32 pm Reply
  • postcardbuzz

    Very cool. Those Romans sure were clever.

    September 10, 2023 - 6:01 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      What have the Romans ever done for us? ha ha. You’re right, they came up with some incredible ideas. Thanks for reading and taking the time to leave a comment 🙂

      September 10, 2023 - 7:30 pm Reply
  • qprgary

    Makes you wonder how many other places around the world have been concreted over, great discovery and one we never knew about. Cheers.

    September 10, 2023 - 6:06 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      I’m sure there are countless other underground treasures of the past that have been similarly bricked over. Thanks for reading Gary, it looks like the R’s aren’t going to have as bad a season as many predicted. Thank god for small mercies.

      September 10, 2023 - 7:29 pm Reply
      • qprgary

        Yeah they seem to be picking up a bit though squad is small will have a season ticket regardless of what transpires

        September 11, 2023 - 1:20 am
  • Len Kagami

    Wow! Not only it’s less crowded than the Basilica Cistern, the light condition is also better. I saw the glass and steel structure, but mistook it as part of the Basilica Cistern. Silly me 😛

    September 10, 2023 - 8:49 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Hey Len! Thanks for reading, I’m glad you enjoyed this look at a lesser known Istanbul cistern. You’re right, the light installation they’ve setup there is exceptional, we were so taken with it as a visual piece.

      September 10, 2023 - 9:19 pm Reply
  • Monkey's Tale

    I read about this cistern but quickly took it off the list. It does look beautiful though with the new renovations. I bet the price has gone up a lot. Prices in Turkey are out of control right now. Maggie

    September 10, 2023 - 9:47 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Prices everywhere seem out of control. Even here in little old Armenia. Thanks for your comment Maggie.

      September 10, 2023 - 10:50 pm Reply
  • bronlima

    A great discovery! Amazing they built a house on top….. but what a cellar ha ha. Just arrived back in Peru. So nice and relaxing climbing into one’s own comfortable bed again after being away for some time!

    September 10, 2023 - 10:16 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Glad you got back ok Geoff. You’ve earned a good rest I’d say.

      September 10, 2023 - 10:51 pm Reply
  • Little Miss Traveller

    What an incredible sight the Theodosius Cistern is Leighton especially to have it to yourselves.

    September 10, 2023 - 11:26 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Hey Marion, thanks for stopping by. We went with curiosity and came away quite blown away by the experience. While it doesn’t have Basilica Cistern’s almighty scale, there was something intimate about Theodosius Cistern that stole our hearts. Hope you are well and that the late UK summer hangs on for a few more days.

      September 11, 2023 - 9:23 am Reply
  • Lyssy In The City

    Wow!! I’d say they did a great job with the renovations. It is so nice to be able to enjoy sights without all the crowds. Hopefully it isn’t overrun today with instagrammers.

    September 11, 2023 - 2:18 am Reply
    • Leighton

      Alas I think it will be Lyssy. A situation compounded by the fact that there really isn’t all that much space inside. Thanks for reading!

      September 11, 2023 - 9:24 am Reply

    Oh mate you did well here. Knowing Istanbul reasonably well this is a revelation, the main cistern is wonderful enough but can only say wow to this one

    September 11, 2023 - 2:26 am Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks, I’m glad its appeal came across. At the time, we literally came away from the experience asking ourselves: “If you had to choose only one cistern…” and conceding it would be a tough call.

      September 11, 2023 - 9:26 am Reply
  • Mallee Stanley

    From the entrance building, I never would have guessed what lay below. Definitely a treat to have it all to yourselves.

    September 11, 2023 - 3:44 am Reply
    • Leighton

      Hey Mallee, yes the exterior gave no clue as to the absolute treat within. Thanks for checking in!

      September 11, 2023 - 9:30 am Reply
  • Lookoom

    It’s a great new place to visit, its deserted appearance certainly didn’t last.

    September 11, 2023 - 7:45 am Reply
    • Leighton

      We hit the jackpot really in terms of how quiet the place was. Thanks for commenting!

      September 11, 2023 - 9:30 am Reply
  • Travels Through My Lens

    Dazzling is right; what an amazing place. And you were fortunate to have been able to explore it privately. Thanks for sharing this interesting hidden gem. I hope you and Sladja have settled into a comfortable routine in Armenia.

    September 11, 2023 - 9:13 am Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks Tricia, it really felt like a hidden gem at the time, though I assume that’s no longer the case. We are ok here in Armenia, though it has been a long and somewhat troubled road these past few months. Hopefully it’ll all come good in the end, I imagine I will put the full story out in my end of year review. Looking forward to a cool, relaxed and colourful autumn.

      September 11, 2023 - 9:33 am Reply
  • john

    An amazing discovery, Leighton! I’d call this place a golden grotto with that lighting. Istanbul’s cisterns have evaded me so far. Thanks for revealing what I missed. When I get back, Theodosius Cistern will be at the top of the list.

    September 11, 2023 - 10:39 am Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks John, let me know what you think of the place after you visit.

      September 11, 2023 - 11:48 am Reply
  • wetanddustyroads

    It’s incredible to think that this cistern is so old (well, actually ancient)! At first sight – the glass entrance – it looks very modern … but wow indeed! I enjoyed reading how the cistern was ‘discovered’ – just think if the building had never been demolished, it would have remained a secret 😯. My favourite photo must be the reflection of the columns in the water – perfect!

    September 11, 2023 - 1:15 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Absolutely, Theodosius Cistern could have been forgotten altogether had it not been for the demolition of the property. Thanks for checking in Corna, I am excited to put out the second batch of my Istanbul articles.

      September 11, 2023 - 2:00 pm Reply
  • rkrontheroad

    Truly dazzling, and what a surprise to see it has been restored so beautifully. Glad to see you are posting again! Hope life is working out for you as you move on.

    September 11, 2023 - 5:34 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Hey Ruth, it’s good to hear from you and to be back posting and reading again in WordPress. We are doing ok and still moving forward with things despite the many obstacles. Hope you had a good summer!

      September 11, 2023 - 7:15 pm Reply
  • grandmisadventures

    Wow, talk about the world’s best glow-up! Absolutely incredible. I think I would actually say I like this one better than the previous one you posted about because I love the light and how it highlights and plays off the columns like that. 🙂 I hope you have a great week

    September 11, 2023 - 7:43 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Hey Meg! So glad you prefer this one to the main draw as prior to writing it up I wondered if the blog needed two Istanbul cistern reviews. Then I thought what the heck. Hope autumn is already hitting your neck of the woods as it has here in Armenia, I know those national parks in Tennessee must be stunning over the next months.

      September 11, 2023 - 8:36 pm Reply
      • grandmisadventures

        Oh leaves are starting to change here which brings great joy to my soul. Does Armenia get the change of color? I hope all the to-dos of residency are working out for you 🙂

        September 11, 2023 - 9:18 pm
      • Leighton

        We have had a rough month or so on many levels but we are getting there with the residency. I have mine and Sladja’s application goes in at the end of the month. Not sure about autumn in Armenia, but in any case we will be out of the country for a few months from early October so will most likely be checking out the fall colours in…. Serbia, Croatia (and possibly Slovenia). Looking forward to your fall colours posts from Tennessee and beyond.

        September 11, 2023 - 10:49 pm
      • grandmisadventures

        I bet those places will be beautiful in the fall. Sending you all my good vibes and crossed fingers for smoother sailing in the months to come

        September 12, 2023 - 5:18 am
  • Little Old World

    Wow! The cistern is absolutely spectacular and so photogenic. I love the reflections. What luck to have had it all to yourselves during your visit.

    September 11, 2023 - 11:49 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      I would be curious to know how popular the cistern has become in these post-COVID years. It wouldn’t take much I think for the place to get rammed with people. Thanks for reading!

      September 12, 2023 - 8:27 am Reply
  • hena

    Beautiful photos. I remember being there 10ish years ago.

    September 12, 2023 - 12:11 am Reply
    • Leighton

      Hey Hena, thanks for your comment. I think you may be confusing Theodosius Cistern with Basilica Cistern. This smaller underground chamber only opened in 2018, but is well worth a visit to this who have a bit longer to spend in the city.

      September 12, 2023 - 8:30 am Reply
  • shortgirlontour

    This lighting is surreal! Beautiful pictures as always!

    September 12, 2023 - 4:23 am Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks for dropping in!

      September 12, 2023 - 8:31 am Reply
  • Rebecca

    Truly gorgeous, if not more so than the Basilica Cistern! I didn’t get a chance to go to the Theodosius Cistern whilst in Istanbul, and despite the hefty 300 lira, it was more than well-worth it!

    September 12, 2023 - 7:09 am Reply
    • Leighton

      Hey Rebecca, I’m so pleased that this smaller, less popular cistern impresses. A good way to kick off the second half of my Istanbul series, wishing you happy vibes for the fall period.

      September 12, 2023 - 8:35 am Reply
  • Nic

    Wow simply stunning! I loved Basilica Cisterna, I didn’t know this one existed too! What a fantastic find, surely less crowded as it’s not as known… I’ve taken a mental note for the next time I’m in Istanbul!

    September 12, 2023 - 10:39 am Reply
    • Leighton

      Hey Nic, I’m glad this one was an eye-opener for you. Thanks for reading!

      September 12, 2023 - 11:00 am Reply
  • Juliette

    What a stunning place! I can imagine how peaceful and quiet it must have felt there, but I guess those huge columns must seem even more impressive when there is no one around. What a beautiful moment!

    September 13, 2023 - 12:40 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Hey Juliette, it’s great to have you back. Thanks for checking out my piece on Theodosius Cistern.

      September 13, 2023 - 1:02 pm Reply
  • WanderingCanadians

    I like the sound of “quiet” and “under the radar” as well. Theodosius Cistern looks fabulous. And how wonderful to have it all to yourselves. It’s crazy to hear that a mansion was once built over the top of it. Glad it’s been rediscovered and restored.

    September 13, 2023 - 3:03 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Yeah, it’s wild that it was even found considering what happened to the land above it. Thanks for checking in!

      September 13, 2023 - 5:54 pm Reply
  • Angela

    Absolutely gorgeous basilica! I believe this basilica was mentioned in Inferno by Dan Brown. Your photos just highlighted how amazing this place is. Thanks!

    September 13, 2023 - 5:01 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks for stopping by Angela, Theodosius Cistern is amazing and definitely gives Basilica Cistern a run for its money.

      September 13, 2023 - 5:48 pm Reply
  • NortheastAllie

    Wow, this place looks so beautiful, and has such amazing history!

    September 14, 2023 - 1:05 am Reply
    • Leighton

      Cheers Allie.

      September 14, 2023 - 8:20 am Reply
  • Anonymous

    leighton, i am a little late to the party for your return to istanbul posting. two great articles though as always. i believe i would enjoy the intimacy of theodosius cistern more but only if i could have it as quiet as you did. how fortunate that after all those years of being covered up and lost it finally found its way back to the people. by the way, wordpress has changed the way people leave comments. i see there is no longer a name field perhaps i shall finally sign up for a wp account – stan

    September 14, 2023 - 8:35 am Reply
    • Leighton

      Yo Stan, it’s good to have you back. How weird to think that had the building not been demolished Theodosius Cistern could still be down there rotting, its secrets lost to the relentless roll of time.

      September 14, 2023 - 8:42 am Reply
  • travelling_han

    Wow it’s beautiful – I didn’t realise there was another Cistern! It makes for a lovely alternative to the Basilica Cistern which is so popular.

    September 14, 2023 - 10:31 pm Reply
  • christinenovalarue


    September 16, 2023 - 10:33 am Reply
    • Leighton


      September 16, 2023 - 11:53 am Reply

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