A cistern (Middle English cisterne, from Latin cisterna, from cista, "box", from Greek κίστη kistê, "basket")[1] is a waterproof receptacle for holding liquids, usually water. Cisterns are often built to catch and store rainwater.[2] Cisterns are distinguished from wells by their waterproof linings. Modern cisterns range in capacity from a few litres to thousands of cubic metres, effectively forming covered reservoirs.


Early domestic and agricultural use

Medium sized rock cut cistern at pavuralla konda at bheemunipatnam
Ancient Buddhist rock-hewn cistern at Pavurallakonda in India

Waterproof lime plaster cisterns in the floors of houses are features of Neolithic village sites of the Levant at, for instance, Ramad and Lebwe,[3] and by the late fourth millennium BC, as at Jawa in northeastern Lebanon, cisterns are essential elements of emerging water management techniques in dry-land farming communities.[4]

Castle cisterns

Citernes malga interieur
One of the Cisterns of La Malga, Carthage, 1930

In the Middle Ages, cisterns were often constructed in hill castles in Europe, especially where wells could not be dug deeply enough. There were two types: the tank cistern and the filter cistern. Such a filter cistern was built at the Riegersburg in Austrian Styria, where a cistern was hewn out of the lava rock. Rain water passed through a sand filter and collected in the cistern. The filter cleaned the rain water and enriched it with minerals.

Present-day use

Unterirdische Zisterne
Concrete cistern

Cisterns are commonly prevalent in areas where water is scarce, either because it is rare or has been depleted due to heavy use. Historically, the water was used for many purposes including cooking, irrigation, and washing. Present-day cisterns are often used only for irrigation due to concerns over water quality. Cisterns today can also be outfitted with filters or other water purification methods when the water is intended for consumption. It is not uncommon for a cistern to be open in some manner in order to catch rain or to include more elaborate rainwater harvesting systems. It is important in these cases to have a system that does not leave the water open to algae or to mosquitoes, which are attracted to the water and then potentially carry disease to nearby humans.[5]

Some cisterns sit on the top of houses or on the ground higher than the house, and supply the running water needs for the house. They are often supplied not by rainwater harvesting, but by wells with electric pumps, or are filled manually or by truck delivery. Very common throughout Brazil, for example, they were traditionally made of concrete walls (much like the houses themselves), with a similar concrete top (about 5 cm/2 inches thick), with a piece that can be removed for water filling and then reinserted to keep out debris and insects. Modern cisterns are manufactured of plastic (in Brazil with a characteristic bright blue color, round, in capacities of about 10,000 (2641 gallons) and 50,000 liters)(13,208 gallons). These cisterns differ from water tanks in the sense that they are not entirely enclosed and sealed with one form, rather they have a lid made of the same material as the cistern, which is removable by the user.

To keep a clean water supply, the cistern must be kept clean. It is important to inspect them regularly, keep them well enclosed, and to occasionally empty and clean them with a proper dilution of chlorine and to rinse them well. Well water must be inspected for contaminants coming from the ground source. City water has up to 1ppm (parts per million) chlorine added to the water to keep it clean, and in many areas can be ordered to be delivered directly to the cistern by truck (a typical price in Brazil is BRL$50, US$20 for 10,000 liters). If there is any question about the water supply at any point (source to tap), then the cistern water should not be used for drinking or cooking. If it is of acceptable quality and consistency, then it can be used for (1) toilets, and housecleaning; (2) showers and handwashing; (3) washing dishes, with proper sanitation methods, and for the highest quality, (4) cooking and drinking. Water of non-acceptable quality for the aforementioned uses may still be used for irrigation. If it is free of particulates but not low enough in bacteria, then boiling may also be an effective method to prepare the water for drinking.

Many greenhouses rely on a cistern to help meet their water needs, particularly in the United States. Some countries or regions, such as Bermuda and the U.S. Virgin Islands, have strict laws requiring that rainwater harvesting systems be built alongside any new construction, and cisterns can be used in these cases. Other countries, such as Japan, Germany, and Spain, also offer financial incentives or tax credit for installing cisterns. Cisterns may also be used to store water for firefighting in areas where there is an inadequate water supply. The city of San Francisco, notably, maintains fire cisterns under its streets in case the primary water supply is disrupted. In many flat areas the use of cisterns is encouraged to absorb excess rainwater which otherwise can overload sewage or drainage systems by heavy rains (certainly in urban areas where a lot of ground is surfaced and doesn't let the ground absorb water).


In some southeast Asian countries such as Malaysia and Indonesia showers are traditionally taken by pouring water over one's body with a dipper (this practice comes from before piped water was common). Many bathrooms even in modern houses are constructed with a small cistern to hold water for bathing by this method.

Toilet cisterns

Gravity toilet valves handle down
A traditional gravity toilet tank concluding the flush cycle.
1. float, 2. fill valve, 3. lift arm, 4. tank fill tube, 5. bowl fill tube, 6. flush valve flapper, 7. overflow tube, 8. flush handle, 9. chain, 10. fill line, 11. fill valve shaft, 12. flush tube

The modern water closet or toilet utilises a cistern to reserve and hold the correct amount of water required to flush the toilet bowl. In earlier toilets, the cistern was located high above the toilet bowl and connected to it by a long pipe. It was necessary to pull a hanging chain connected to a release valve located inside the cistern in order to flush the toilet. Modern toilets may be close coupled, with the cistern mounted directly on the toilet bowl and no intermediate pipe. In this arrangement, the flush mechanism (lever or push button) is usually mounted on the cistern. Concealed cistern toilets, where the cistern is built into the wall behind the toilet, are also available. A flushing trough is a type of cistern used to serve more than one WC pan at one time. These cisterns are becoming less common however. The cistern was the genesis of the modern bidet.

At the beginning of the flush cycle, as the water level in the toilet cistern tank drops, the flush valve flapper falls back to the bottom, stopping the main flow to the flush tube. Because the tank water level has yet to reach the fill line, water continues to flow from the tank and bowl fill tubes. When the water again reaches the fill line, the float will release the fill valve shaft and water flow will stop.

Notable examples

Basilica Cistern, Constantinople
Basilica Cistern, Istanbul, 138 m x 65 m, 80.000 m3, Justinian I, 523-542

See also


Kunststoffzisterne IMG 20170714 120822174

Plastic cistern

Nabatean Well Negev 031812

Remains of a Nabataean cistern north of Makhtesh Ramon, southern Israel

Palacio de las Veletas, aljibe, Cáceres

Aljibe of the Palacio de las Veletas, Cáceres


  1. ^ Webster's Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary, 1990 edition, etymology of "cistern".
  2. ^ "Cisterns".
  3. ^ Robert Miller, "Water use in Syria and Palestine from the Neolithic to the Bronze Age", World Archaeology, 2.3 (February 1980:331-341) p. 334.
  4. ^ Roberts, N. (1977). "Water conservation in ancient Arabia". Proceedings of the Seminar for Arabian Studies. 7: 134–46.
  5. ^ al-Kibsi, Huda (2007-09-29). "Yemen takes another look at cisterns". Yemen Observer.

External links

Basilica Cistern

The Basilica Cistern (Turkish: Yerebatan Sarnıcı – "Cistern Sinking Into Ground"), is the largest of several hundred ancient cisterns that lie beneath the city of Istanbul (formerly Constantinople), Turkey. The cistern, located 150 metres (490 ft) southwest of the Hagia Sophia on the historical peninsula of Sarayburnu, was built in the 6th century during the reign of Byzantine Emperor Justinian I. Today it is kept with little water, for public access inside the space.

Berry Islands

The Berry Islands are a chain of islands and a district of the Bahamas, covering about thirty square miles (78 km2) of the northwestern part of the Out Islands.

The Berry Islands consist of about thirty islands and over one hundred small islands or cays, often referred to as "The Fish Bowl of the Bahamas." They have a population of 807 (2010 census), most of whom are on Great Harbour Cay. The islands were settled in 1836 by Governor William Colebrooke with a group of freed slaves.

Brain herniation

Brain herniation is a potentially deadly side effect of very high pressure within the skull that occurs when a part of the brain is squeezed across structures within the skull. The brain can shift across such structures as the falx cerebri, the tentorium cerebelli, and even through the foramen magnum (the hole in the base of the skull through which the spinal cord connects with the brain). Herniation can be caused by a number of factors that cause a mass effect and increase intracranial pressure (ICP): these include traumatic brain injury, intracranial hemorrhage, or brain tumor.Herniation can also occur in the absence of high ICP when mass lesions such as hematomas occur at the borders of brain compartments. In such cases local pressure is increased at the place where the herniation occurs, but this pressure is not transmitted to the rest of the brain, and therefore does not register as an increase in ICP.Because herniation puts extreme pressure on parts of the brain and thereby cuts off the blood supply to various parts of the brain, it is often fatal. Therefore, extreme measures are taken in hospital settings to prevent the condition by reducing intracranial pressure, or decompressing (draining) a hematoma which is putting local pressure on a part of the brain.

Cerebellopontine angle

The cerebellopontine angle (CPA) (Latin: angulus cerebellopontinus) is located between the cerebellum and the pons.

The cerebellopontine angle is the site of the cerebellopontine angle cistern one of the subarachnoid cisterns that contains cerebrospinal fluid, arachnoid tissue, cranial nerves, and associated vessels. The cerebellopontine angle is also the site of a set of neurological disorders known as the cerebellopontine angle syndrome.

Church of Saint Benoit, Istanbul

Saint Benoit (French: Saint Benoît; Turkish: Saint Benoit Latin Katolik Kilisesi; also Italian: Santa Maria della Cisterna) is a Roman Catholic Church in Istanbul, Turkey, important for historical reasons. Established in 1427, the shrine is the oldest Catholic church of Istanbul still in use.

Cistern, Texas

Cistern is an unincorporated community in southwestern Fayette County, Texas, United States. It is located on Texas State Highway 95, 12 miles (19 km) northwest of Flatonia. It was formerly known as Whiteside's Prairie and Cockrill's Hill.Cistern had a population of 75 as of the 2000 census.

Cistern of Aetius

The Cistern of Aetius (Greek: ἡ Κινστέρνη τοῦ Ἄετίου), known since the Ottoman period as Çukurbostan ("sunken garden") and since 1928 as Karagümrük stadyumu ("Karagümrük stadium") or Vefa stadyumu ("Vefa stadium"), was a Byzantine open-sky water reservoir in the city of Constantinople, important for historical reasons. Once one of the largest Byzantine cisterns, it is now a football stadium in Istanbul.

Cistern of Philoxenos

The Cistern of Philoxenos (Greek: Κινστέρνα Φιλοξένου), or Binbirdirek Cistern, is a man-made subterranean reservoir in Istanbul, situated between the Forum of Constantine and the Hippodrome of Constantinople in the Sultanahmet district. It has been restored and is now visited as a tourist attraction. The entrance is located at İmran Öktem Sokak 4.

Binbirdirek Cistern is the second largest cistern in Istanbul after the Basilica Cistern.

Cisterna chyli

The cisterna chyli (or cysterna chyli, and etymologically more correct, receptaculum chyli) is a dilated sac at the lower end of the thoracic duct in most mammals into which lymph from the intestinal trunk and two lumbar lymphatic trunks flow. It receives fatty chyle from the intestines and thus acts as a conduit for the lipid products of digestion. It is the most common drainage trunk of most of the body's lymphatics. The cisterna chyli is a retro-peritoneal structure. In humans, it is located posterior to the abdominal aorta on the anterior aspect of the bodies of the first and second lumbar vertebrae (L1 and L2). There it forms the beginning of the primary lymph vessel, the thoracic duct, which transports lymph and chyle from the abdomen via the aortic opening of the diaphragm up to the junction of left subclavian vein and internal jugular veins. In dogs, it is located to the left and often ventral to the aorta; in cats it is left and dorsal; in guinea pigs it runs to the left and drains into the left innominate vein.

Cisterna magna

The cisterna magna (or cerebellomedullaris cistern) is one of three principal openings in the subarachnoid space between the arachnoid and pia mater layers of the meninges surrounding the brain. The openings are collectively referred to as the subarachnoid cisterns. The cisterna magna is located between the cerebellum and the dorsal surface of the medulla oblongata. Cerebrospinal fluid produced in the fourth ventricle drains into the cisterna magna via the lateral apertures and median aperture.

The two other principal cisterns are the pontine cistern located between the pons and the medulla and the interpeduncular cistern located between the cerebral peduncles.

While the most commonly used clinical method for obtaining cerebrospinal fluid is a lumbar puncture, puncture of the cisterna magna is also rarely performed.

El Jadida

El Jadida (Berber: Maziɣen, ⵎⴰⵣⵉⵗⴻⵏ, Arabic: الجديدة or مازيغن‎, Portuguese: Mazagão) is a port city on the Atlantic coast of Morocco, located 106 km south of the city of Casablanca in the region of Doukkala-Abda and the province of El Jadida. It has a population of 194,934 (2014 census). From the sea, El Jadida's old city has a very "un-Moorish" appearance; it has massive Portuguese walls of hewn stone.

The Portuguese Fortified City of Mazagan was registered as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2004, on the basis of its status as an "outstanding example of the interchange of influences between European and Moroccan cultures" and as an "early example of the realisation of the Renaissance ideals integrated with Portuguese construction technology". According to UNESCO, the most important buildings from the Portuguese period are the cistern, and the Manueline Church of the Assumption.

The city, and particularly its neighboring town of Sidi Bouzid, becomes extremely busy in the summer season with an influx of mainly Moroccan holiday-makers. Nearby is the five-star resort complex of Mazagan, which attracts the Moroccan elite as well as many international visitors from the Persian Gulf as well as from Europe and beyond. Mazagan has a golf course designed by Gary Player, casino, nightclub and restaurants. Between Mazagan and El Jadida is the Pullman Hotel, attached to which is Royal Golf El Jadida, another 18-hole course. The presence of nearby ports and factories is responsible for the pollution of El Jadida's beaches.

At present, the city's main exports are beans, almonds, maize, chickpeas, wool, hides, wax and eggs. It imports cotton, sugar, tea and rice. The city is expanding as of 2014, partly as a result of increased activity at the nearby Jorf Lasfar port and industrial area.


Exuma is a district of the Bahamas, consisting of over 365 islands, also called cays.

The largest of the cays is Great Exuma, which is 37 mi (60 km) in length and joined to another island, Little Exuma, by a small bridge. The capital and largest town in the district is George Town (population 1,437). It was founded 1793 and located on Great Exuma. Near the town, but on Little Exuma, the Tropic of Cancer runs across Pelican Beach lending it another name: Tropic of Cancer Beach. Its white sand and turquoise waters make it a world-famous destination. The entire island chain is 130 mi (209 km) long and 72 sq mi (187 km²) in area. Great Exuma island has an area of 61 sq mi (158 km²) while Little Exuma has an area of 11 sq mi (29 km²).Between 2000 and 2010, the population of Exuma more than doubled, reflecting the construction of large and small resort properties and the related direct air traffic to Great Exuma from locations as distant as Toronto, Ontario, Canada. The population in 2010 was 6,928.

Interpeduncular cistern

The interpeduncular cistern encloses the cerebral peduncles and the structures contained in the interpeduncular fossa and contains the arterial circle of Willis as well as the oculomotor nerve (CN3).

Piscina Mirabilis

The Piscina Mirabilis is an ancient Roman cistern on the Bacoli hill at the western end of the Gulf of Naples, southern Italy. It was one of the largest ancient cisterns . It was built under Augustus as evidenced by the building technique of opus reticulatum used in the walls.

The cistern was dug entirely out of the tuff hill and was 15 metres (49 ft) high, 72 metres (236 ft) long, and 25 metres (82 ft) wide. The capacity was 12,600 cubic metres (440,000 cu ft). It was supported by vaulted ceilings and a total of 48 pillars.

It was thought to be situated there in order to provide the Roman western imperial fleet at Portus Julius with drinking water but as the cistern is about 1km away from the slopes of the promontory of Misenum where the miltary base and residential area port were located, this is unlikely. Also from the Augustan period the naval base was directly connected to the Aqua Augusta and did not need the cistern. More likely is that the cistern belonged to one of the many luxurious villas built in this area, like the nearby Grotta della Dragonara cistern.

The cistern was supplied with water from the main Roman aqueduct, the Aqua Augusta, which brought water from sources in Serino near Avellino, 100 kilometres distant, to most of the sites around Naples.Water was pumped out of the cistern using machines placed on the roof terrace of the cistern, which were increased in the 2nd c. AD by adding a series of supporting barrel-vaulted rooms on the north side.

The ancient cistern is currently in private hands, but it may be visited by the public.

Subarachnoid cisterns

The subarachnoid cisterns are spaces formed by openings in the subarachnoid space, an anatomic space in the meninges of the brain. The space separates two of the meninges, the arachnoid mater and the pia mater. These cisterns are filled with cerebrospinal fluid.

Superior cistern

The superior cistern (cistern of great cerebral vein, quadrigeminal cistern, ambient cistern) is a dilation as a subarachnoid cistern of the subarachnoid space between the splenium of the corpus callosum and the superior surface of the cerebellum; it extends between the layers of the tela choroidea of the third ventricle and contains the great cerebral vein and the pineal gland.

Tekfur ambarı

Tekfur ambarı (a.k.a. Tekir ambarı, literally "lord's storehouse") is a large cistern in Silifke district of Mersin Province, Turkey. A part of the city of Silifke, it is situated to the west of city center and to the east of Silifke castle at 36°23′N 33°55′E . It was built during the early years of Byzantine Empire. The building material is face stone. The west to east dimension is 46 metres (151 ft) and the north to south dimension is 23 metres (75 ft). The depth of the cistern is 14 metres (46 ft). The total water capacity is about 12 000 tonnes. At the east side of the cistern there is a spiral staircase. There are 8 nisches at the 46 m dimension and 5 nisches at the 23 m dimension.

Theodosius Cistern

The Theodosius Cistern (Greek: Κινστέρνα Θεοδοσίου, Turkish: Şerefiye Sarnıcı) is one of many ancient cisterns of Constantinople that lie beneath the city of Istanbul, Turkey. The modern entrance is in Piyer Loti Caddesi, Fatih.

It was built by Roman Emperor Theodosius II between 428 and 443 to store water supplied by the Valens Aqueduct. The Aqueduct of Valens was redistributed by Theodosius from its original supply to the Nymphaeum, the Baths of Zeuxippus and the Great Palace of Constantinople. This redistribution led to the construction of the Theodosius Cistern.

The area is about 45 by 25 metres (148 by 82 ft) and the roof is supported by 32 marble columns about 9 metres (30 ft) high.

Like the Basilica Cistern and the Binbirdirek Cistern, it is once again open to the public, having been under restoration for eight years as of April 2018..

Verne Cistern

Verne Cistern is a water supply cistern on the Isle of Portland, Dorset, England. It is situated at the southern flank of the Verne Ramparts, on the slopes of Verne Hill, along the route of the horse drawn and cable operated Merchant's Railway - now a public footpath. It is on the edge of the Verne Citadel, a 19th-century fort, which is now HM Prison The Verne. The cistern became Grade II Listed in May 1993.

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