Maiden Tower, Leandrova Tower, and Kiz Kulesi are all names of one of the most striking sights in Istanbul. It is likely that you have seen it even if you have never been to this Turkish city. The tower is often depicted on magnets, mugs and other souvenirs. It is located on a small island in the Bosphorus Strait. The three tiers of the tower are a total of 23 meters in height, and it offers a stunning view of the city.
Maiden Tower in front of Istanbul
History of the Tower
If you try to find data on when the tower was built, you will not succeed. There is no exact information about it in the archives. The only thing you can find is the first mention of this place, which dates back to the 5th century BC. However, these are only mentions of the island itself, not the structure.
In those years there was a fierce confrontation between Sparta and Athens, and Byzantium (the future Constantinople) took the side of the Spartans. At that time the strait was divided into two parts: the European part and the Asian part. The Spartans took control of the first, and the second became Athenian. When Athens was victorious, the strait was fully under their control, which allowed them to collect duties from ships entering the Bosporus.
The Battle between the Spartans and the Athenians in the harbor
This control required special constructions: a fortress and other structures on a small island a couple of hundred meters from the shore. A large chain was stretched from the tower to the coast in both directions, which made it possible to block the strait if necessary. At the right moment it was lifted, and the ships could not pass through the Bosporus.
Some researchers tend to the version that the Maiden Tower was erected on the orders of the Athenian voivode Alcibiades. The aim of the construction was to control the Persian ships, which could not pass through the strait. But the building itself is not mentioned in the sources as a "tower". According to another version, the appearance of the Maiden Tower was made possible thanks to Emperor Constantine the Great, who needed a naval outpost.
Up to the 15th century the structure served a defensive function. Then the Seljuk Turks, who took Constantinople under their control, built a lighthouse here, which became a navigator for sailors entering the Bosporus. On feast days solemn volleys of cannons were fired from the island.
The lighthouse was made of wood, and it stood until 1720, when a fire destroyed the structure. The structure was rebuilt, but this time already in stone. In addition to the replacement of the material, changes were made to the architectural details: the cone-shaped part of the tower was replaced by a glass pavilion. After some time the pavilion was replaced with a dome.
Kyz Kulesi in the 19th century
A painting by Sultan Mahmut the Second and an inscription in marble by Rakim Efendi, the famous calligrapher of the time, were placed above the entrance to the tower.
In the middle of the 19th century a lantern was added to the tower, and in the first half of the 20th century the structure was equipped with an automated lighting system.
Photo inside the Maiden's Tower
During its history, the Maiden's Tower has served a variety of functions. It was used to collect taxes from ships passing through the strait, to organize the defense of the Bosphorus, to point the way for sailors, when the structure was converted into a lighthouse.
There was a time when it was even used as a radio station and a hospital. This happened in 1830, when a cholera epidemic struck the region. A quarantine zone was organized here. After a temporary change of function, the tower then became a lighthouse again.
The tower these days in the evening
In 1964 the building came under the control of the Ministry of Defense, and 18 years later it became the responsibility of the Maritime Administration. The buildings on the island underwent restoration and were put in order. In the mid-1990s, a commercial holding company leased the place from the Ministry of Tourism. The lease was for 49 years and has not yet been completed. The landmark is now used as a restaurant and is open to the public.
Legends of the Tower
The tower got its name from two romantic legends that are associated with this place. The first says that once upon a time, there lived a formidable ruler. He was very rich, and his treasury was filled with jewels from all over the world. The ruler valued them very much, but he valued his main treasure even more - his only daughter. He was ready to do anything for her. Suddenly he received sad news: one of the soothsayers who came to the palace announced that the beautiful princess would die, as soon as she reached the age of eighteen.
The father was in utter despair and did not know how to save his precious daughter from the curse. Out of despair, he ordered a tall tower to be erected on a lonely island, and he imprisoned his heiress there. But he did not leave her there, but visited her every day, trying to spend as much time with her as possible. He did not want her to feel sad or lonely.
For many years the imprisonment of the ruler's daughter on the island continued. Until her eighteenth birthday. On that day, her father decided to please his child with a basket of the ripest and most delicious fruit. It was his gift to her. He never imagined that the gifts would be the cause of the princess' death. She died as soon as she picked up the first succulent fruit. There was a poisonous snake hiding in the basket under the fruit, and it bit the ruler's daughter. But there is another version of the ending of the legend, a happier one. In this version, the princess does not die, because the Persian prince manages to save her. He sucks the poison, and the young beauty stays alive. In fact, in honor of the ruler's daughter and got its main name - Maiden Tower.
The Legend of the Maiden's Tower, the Death of the Ruler's Daughter
The origin of the name "Leandre's Tower" is connected with another legend, which is also very tragic. It is a love story of the beautiful Hero, who served in the temple of Aphrodite, and a simple guy named Leander. The servants of the cult object were forbidden to get acquainted with men, much less fall in love with them. But the ban could not affect Hero's feelings. She fell in love with Léandre as soon as she saw him at one of the festivities in honor of Aphrodite. The feelings were reciprocated, and the young man fell in love with Hero. Restrictions prevented them from meeting, and they had secret rendezvous.
So that no one would guess of these meetings, they devised a special signal that the girl had to give. The temple maid set a bright lantern in the upper window of the tower at just the right moment. His light was seen by Leander and he knew that the way was open and it was possible to go to the meeting. All this remained secret only until the moment when the high priest found out about the meetings. Naturally he decided to stop the unauthorized rendezvous, and a cruel and cunning plan was devised to do so. One day, when Heero set fire to the window to summon Leander, the priest lured the girl out of the room. While she was gone, the priest's assistants put out the fire. The young man in love, who was sailing to the tower in a boat, lost his bearings and in the darkness of the night could not find a safe way. His little boat ran aground on the coastal cliffs. The lad perished. Hero, only learning of Leander's death, realized that she could no longer live without him. She killed herself by jumping straight off the tower into the water. This is how the name "Leandre's Tower" came about.
The Dead Hero and Leandra
Since 2000, the attraction is available to the masses of tourists. There is a souvenir shop, a bar, a small historical exposition and an observation platform. From this platform it is possible to have a splendid view of Istanbul. It is in charge of the attraction is the Directorate of Marine Enterprises.
There are catering establishments on the island. There is a cafe during the day and a restaurant that offers oriental and European cuisine. Here you can have breakfast, lunch or dinner. Note that you can order breakfast on weekdays from 9 am to 1 pm. On weekends this option is available only from 10:00. The standard breakfast will cost 90 liras and the full version with a choice of dishes will be more expensive at around 110 liras. However, this price includes the ticket to the museum and the transfer to the island. You will be taken to the tower by boat.
The restaurant in the tower is small
It is important to know that the restaurant has certain requirements for visitors. In the evening there is a dress code, which imposes a ban on visiting the institution in sportswear. T-shirts and shorts are also not allowed. Children under 7 years old are not allowed to enter at this time, too. Usually the supper is served after 19:00. For the meal you can choose between two menus that cost approximately 300 lira per person (excluding drinks). If you choose a table by the window, you will have to pay extra for that.
How to get there
There is only one way to get to the tower, by water. But the boats to the island depart from different points in the city. In the European part of Istanbul, the departure point is Kabataş pier. You can get to the pier by streetcar on the T1 line. If you stand by the pier facing the strait, you will see the boats to your destination on the left. Important: boats on this route run only on weekends from 10:00 to 18:00. They leave every hour.
But you can get to the Maiden Tower from the Asian side of Istanbul every day. On weekdays the boats depart from the Salacak Pier from 9:00 to 18:30 and on weekends from 10:00 to 18:30. There are numerous buses to the pier. We just want to add that there is no need to buy a separate ticket for the boat. Its price is already included in the cost of visiting the island.