Maiden’s Tower

Maiden’s Tower (“Kız Kulesi” in Turkish), also referred to as “Leander’s Tower”, “Tower of Leandros” or “Bosphorus Tower” in English, is one of the most important landmarks of Istanbul. The Maiden’s Tower stands about 200 meters east of Üsküdar’s coast. The tower can be seen on a small island while traveling south from the Bosphorus.

Throughout history, Maiden’s Tower has been the topic and inspiration of many art pieces. It was even featured in some local and foreign movies. Although it is not known when exactly it was built, historical sources claim the architectural style to be synonymous with the 340 BCE era. The tower has previously been called “arcla” (which means little castle). It is also possible to find the Tower mentioned as Leandros. In some sources, Kharis (former king of Athens) is claimed to have named the tower Damalis, after his wife.

In his “Book of Travels” (“Seyahatname” in Turkish) Evliya Çelebi illustrated it as: “It is a high, four-corner, artistic tower in the sea within an arrow’s shot from the land. Its height is exactly 80 ells. Its surface area is two hundred feet, and it has ground level doors on two sides.” 

The tower had many uses in its life. 

  • It served its purpose as a customs station during the Byzantine era.
  • In the Greek era, it was a tomb. 
  • When the cholera epidemic hit Istanbul in 1830, the tower was turned into a quarantine hospital.
  • During the Ottoman era, sultans used it as a watchtower

But its function for guiding ships remained the same as times changed.

Visiting The Maiden’s Tower 

Visiting the Maiden’s Tower is one of the easiest to do tourist activities in Istanbul, there are many options for visitors considering a trip. 

Without needing a guide, you can visit the tower yourself. If you have access to an Istanbul Tourist Pass you can go to the Maiden’s Tower (without any reservations) with a boat from one of the ports such as Kabataş, or Salacak. A free boat trip to the tower and for the way back is included with the pass. 

How Do You Get To The Maiden’s Tower

There are many ways to get to the Maiden’s Tower, the most practical way is, as mentioned before, taking a boat from Kabataş or Salacak. To get to the ports you can either use public transportation methods such as tram, bus, metro, etc., or use your vehicle. While taking a boat from Salacak takes about a minute, going from Kabataş takes around 10. Every 15 minutes a boat leaves from either port. The public transportation of boats is available between 09:15 and 18:30.

Hours of the Maiden’s Tower

The tower is open for visitors every day from 9:15 to 19:00. 

Entrance Fee for the Maiden’s Tower

The entrance fee for visitors is 4 Euros or free with an Istanbul Tourist Pass. There are also discounts for students (students must have a student ID from a Turkish school) and people over 60. It is important to note that the tourist pass or the entrance fee does not include beverages or food.

Best Time To Visit

The best time to visit Maiden’s Tower (although this is a preference) is between 10:00 and 12:00. According to statistics, it has the most visitors on Sunday while having the least visitors on Tuesday. Statistics also show that it usually has the highest number of visitors between 15:00 and 16:00.

How Long To Spend

Spending a few hours to explore this historical heritage should be enough to see everything the tower offers. If you would wish to stay in the tower more and enjoy its view, there is a café called “Kuledebar Café”. It is located at the top of the tower with a balcony for a panoramic view of the city. There is also a main restaurant under the tower that does not require a reservation.

History Of The Maiden’s Tower

As we go all the way back in history, the original date for the construction of the tower is still not fully known. But there are a few sources that look into when it was first built. We will be providing them both here.

  • Turkish resources quoted Roman historians by saying the tower’s first construction was done by Emperor Manuel Komnenos. The emperor built this tower for two reasons; the first of them was to ensure the control of Bosphorus and the second one was to charge taxes on merchant ships. In order to accomplish these goals, it is said that a thick chain between the tower and the European coast was drawn. There are also stories of the first tower sinking because of the weight of the chain. 
  • Another source claims, after the Battle of Cyzicus, which took place in 410BC during the Peloponnesian War, a customs station for ships was built by Alcibiades (a general from the victorious Athenians) on a small rock in front of Chrysopolis (known as Üsküdar today).
  • In the Byzantine era (around 1100s) a wooden tower covered by a stone wall was built by Emperor Alexius Comnenus. It is said that there was a chain reaching between it and another tower located on the European shore (at the quarter of Mangana which is on the easternmost edge of Sirkeci in Constantinople, today’s Istanbul). The island was connected to the Asiatic shore with a defense wall. Remains of this wall underwater are still visible to this day.
  • In 1453, Sultan Mehmet the Conqueror started his conquest of Constantinople. At that time the tower was defended by the garrison of Gabrielle Trevisano (a Byzantine commander from the Republic of Venice). In the hands of Sultan Mehmet, the tower served its purpose as a watchtower since it was not needed for defensive purposes. 
  • When an earthquake hit the city in 1509, the tower was seriously damaged. Then it was repaired by a famous Ottoman architect Hayrettin. Later on, it was as a lighthouse, then when a fire broke out, the tower was destroyed.
  • After that Nevşehirli Damat İbrahim Paşa (Istanbul’s head architect) built the tower again as a masonry. Later a glass kiosk and lead-covered dome were added. Some Turkish sources also claim that the Maiden’s Tower was used as cannonry for various ceremonies. Later on famous Ottoman calligrapher Rakım Efendi inscribed Sultan Mahmut II’s signature on marble. 
  • The tower went under many restorations throughout its life, in 1945 it was restored by the harbor authority. Between 1966 and 1981 the tower was illustrated in the back of Turkish banknotes for 10 lira. 
  • As a preparation for the tower’s appearance in the 1999 James Bond movie “The World is Not Enough”, it went through another restoration. After the devastating 1999 earthquake in Turkey, in order to strengthen the tower, they added steel supports. After the latest restorations were done by Hamoğlu Holding (tower’s owners since 1995) the tower opened to the public in 2000 for the first time in history.

Legend Of The Maiden’s Tower 

There are many legends and stories about the Maiden’s Tower, we have compiled a few of them using different sources.

The Story of Hero and Leander

This is the most popular one among all legends about the Maiden’s Tower. Because of that, we will be compiling different sources to tell this story. But there is one important thing to note before moving onto the legend: Where this story takes place is very unclear. 

Some sources point at Hellenspont (also known as Dardanelles or Strait of Galliopi, Çanakkale Boğazı in Turkish). They claim that the story being associated with the Maiden’s Tower is caused by the similarity between the Strait of Gallipoli and Bosphorus. Other sources claim it takes place in Üsküdar. 

While it is impossible to know which one is correct, in this article we used a Turkish source. Therefore accepting Üsküdar as the location.

This story (taking place in 500BCE) has given the tower its name for hundreds of years. According to the ancient Greek myth, there was a temple dedicated to the goddess Aphrodite near the coasts of Üsküdar. Hero was a priestess sworn to the temple. 

As she lived in the tower, she took care of the doves. As a tradition, there was a ceremony every year at the beginning of spring around the temple. In this ceremony people prayed to Aphrodite, to find love. Leander decided to join one of these ceremonies and met Hero. He fell in love with her instantly. From there on he started swimming to her tower every day and eventually won Hero’s heart. With that their nightly meetings began taking place in the tower. Every night Hero lit a lamp to guide Leander from the top of the tower. One night as the storms covered the sky, the lamp blew out. Without the light, Leander got lost and drowned under the waves. Seeing his body washed up on the rocks brought great grief to Hero. She leaped from the tower to death after the devastating loss of her love, giving the tower its name.

The Legend of Snake

A popular Turkish legend tells the story of a sultan and his beloved daughter. One day sultan met with an oracle, who told him his daughter would die from the bite of a venomous snake on her 18th birthday. With the fear of losing his daughter, the sultan placed his daughter on an island away from land to keep her afar from any snakes. This tower was in the middle of the Bosphorus. Her only visitor was her father. On the day of the daughter’s 18th birthday, the sultan brought her a basket of fruits, as a celebration for stopping the prophecy. Then a snake that was hiding amongst the fruit emerged from the basket and bit his daughter. She died in her father’s arms. Giving the tower its name as Maiden’s Tower.

The Legend of Battal Ghazi

There are many different versions of this story, we tried to capture the spirit of the legend by using multiple sources.

Battal Ghazi was a general in the Ottoman invasion of Constantinople. During the invasion, Byzantine Emperor placed his family in Maiden’s Tower to keep them safe. Battal Ghazi fell in love with the Emperor’s daughter and the Emperor forbade their union. Despite this Battal Ghazi raided the tower and took the maiden Princess. He put her in his horse and rode away to the sunset. The Turkish expression “He who rides the Horse has already passed Üsküdar” (“Atı alan Üsküdar’ı geçti” in Turkish) comes from this legend.

The Story of Love Between Two Towers

There is a Turkish story that gets told around, according to it; Galata Tower and Maiden’s Tower are in love with each other, but the Bosphorus between them prevents them from getting together. Galata Tower pours its love into letters of passion for years. When Polymath Ahmed the Wise (Hezarfen Ahmed Çelebi in Turkish) climbs the Galata Tower to achieve his dream of flying, Galata whispers their love into his ear. Taking the winds of Istanbul behind him Hazerfen delivers the letters to Maiden’s Tower. When Maiden receives the letter and finds out that their love is mutual, joy overcomes the tower and they create the most beautiful view of Istanbul.

How Is The Maiden’s Tower Used Today

The Maiden’s Tower went through a lot of renovations as time passed, nowadays with the latest renovations it is a tourist attraction, drawing visitors from all over the world. A private company (Hamoğlu Holding) runs the tower since 1995. 

While traveling to the island has a fee, there is a museum inside with free admission. There is also a restaurant located at the interior of the tower offering Turkish cuisine while serving dinners. The restaurant is sometimes used for organizations. There is a café at the top of the tower providing a view of the Bosphorus as well as the city. 

While the tower itself is beautiful, the interior of it is also worth seeing. There are old maps in the ceiling and some other art pieces as remains of its history. 

Getting a view of the city from the top of the tower provides a good opportunity for taking stunning pictures.

Watching the sunset on the Bosphorus from the top of the tower on a snowy winter evening is a sight worth taking the picture of. 

The tower’s lighting and design also offer tourists an artistic display from the shore at night.

Maiden’s Tower In Popular Culture

The tower was featured in many productions, we gathered some of them in this article:

The first appearance of the Maiden’s Tower in movies was in 1993. The Turkish drama “Kızkulesi Aşıkları” (it translates to English as “Lovers of the Maiden’s Tower”) was based on the story of Leandros and Hero.

The tower’s first Hollywood appearance however was the James Bond movie “The World is Not Enough” (1999). And later in another James Bond movie “From Russia with Love” (1963) it was visible in the background.

In the 2007 action-thriller movie Hitman which is based on a video game series, it is possible to see the Maiden’s Tower.

In the 9th Leg of “The Amazing Race 7” (an American television show where teams race around the world), the tower was shown.

Since the Turkish drama show “Kurtlar Vadisi” and “Erkenci Kuş” mostly took place in Istanbul, the tower was featured in them many times. It is also very common to see the tower in any other Turkish television show/movie taking place in Istanbul. Because of the location of the tower, and the usage of landscape shots.

In the Assassin’s Creed Revelations (series 4th game) which took place in Istanbul, one of the collectibles of the game was located in the Maiden’s Tower’s in-game replica. 

Further Information and Trivia About the Maiden’s Tower

As we get ready to conclude this article there are a few more things worth mentioning about Maiden’s Tower.

The Tower has a crucial part in Turkish culture as it has been welcoming people who are visiting the city for centuries. Therefore, it has been possible to find some Turkish articles about the tower that was not available in English.

One of these Turkish articles says, “even though the tower opened to the public in 2000, the idea for turning it into a touristic landmark was not that recent. In La Turquie’s newspaper “Nouvelles du Jour” (News of the day, dated 1880), it was written that an English man wanted to rent the tower for 12 years. His intentions were quoted as “wanting to change this byzantine heritage into a hotel with a restaurant and a café “. This idea was not executed. In another edition of the same newspaper (dated 1883) it was noted that Maiden’s Tower needed considerable restoration.” While this was taken as a direct quote from a Turkish source, we were not able to find any other sources to support this claim.

The tower as mentioned before was the inspiration for many pieces of art, especially by Turkish artists. Some of these works are still talked about and mentioned when discussing Turkish historical literature and art. To name a few of these artists; Orhan Veli (his poem featuring the tower was called “Gemilerim”), Bedri Rahmi Eyuboğlu, İbrahim Sadri, and Cemal Süreyya can be mentioned. Maiden’s Tower was also a subject for many famous painters in the Ottoman era.

İsmail Çamönü

Hi! I am Ismail. I am a digital nomad from Turkey. I lived in many cities around Turkey during my life and I am passionate about traveling. At Nomad's Guide to Turkey, I share travel tips for nomads, expats, and tourists who would like to visit Turkey.

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