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A History of Maiden's Tower in 60 Seconds

Picture of Feride Yalav-Heckeroth
Updated: 18 January 2018

When nighttime arrives in Istanbul, the Maiden’s Tower is illuminated in a golden glow that reflects on the surface of the famous Bosphorus Strait. One of Istanbul’s most beautiful landmarks, the tower’s history dates back to the medieval Byzantine period and is also subject to legends that explain its remote location on a small island on the water.

Also known as the Leander’s Tower, due to its association with the legend of Hero and Leander, Istanbul’s Maiden’s Tower is on a small islet off the coast of Istanbul’s Üsküdar neighbourhood. It is believed that the historic structure was built around 1110 when Byzantine Emperor, Alexius Comnenus built a wooden tower alongside a protective stonewall. When the Ottomans took over Constantinople in 1453, the tower was occupied by a Byzantine garrison before the Ottoman Turks used it as a watchtower during the reign of Mehmed the Conqueror. The Maiden’s Tower is also associated with the legend of an emperor who was told by an oracle that his beloved daughter would die of a snakebite on her eighteenth birthday. The emperor thus sent his daughter to the tower to protect her from the prophecy, however, on her eighteenth birthday, a basket composed of luscious fruits that her father gave her as a gift had a venomous asp hiding inside and the princess died, as predicted by the oracle.

The tower was majorly damaged during the earthquake of 1509 and a fire in 1721, at which point it was being used as a lighthouse and was therefore restored through the use of stone in order to increase its sturdiness. From 1829 onward, the tower served as a quarantine station before it was restored by Sultan Mahmud II and later by the harbour authority in 1945. In 1998, the tower underwent another necessary restoration because the James Bond film, The World is Not Enough, was in town. After the devastating earthquake of 1999, steel supports were also added to the tower in order to protect it against any further natural disasters. Nowadays, the tower has a cafe and restaurant inside, both of which offer amazing views of the city and its two sides. Guests can take private boats to the islet and enjoy a day on the Bosphorus.