Kız Kulesi, also known as Maiden’s Tower or Leander’s Tower, is an Istanbul landmark of many legends and mysteries. The tower sits on a small island just off the shore of Üsküdar on the Asian side of the Bosporus. It has unique views of Istanbul due to its excellent position.
There has been a tower on this small island ever since Byzantine times. The first tower was built in 1110 by Byzantine Emperor Alexios Komnenos and connected to another tower on the European side by a large chain. It was possibly a customs station. The tower was later connected to the Asian side by a large defensive wall which is still visible under the water.
The tower was used as a watchtower by the Ottomans from 1453 until it was destroyed in an earthquake in 1509. It burned down in 1721, repaired ten years later, and used as a lighthouse. It was restored in 1998 and now serves as a tourist attraction and popular yet very expensive restaurant with a fixed price menu.
To get to the tower, there are small private boats from Üsküdar and Kabataş for 20TL round trip. The boats run at about 15 minute intervals and tickets can be bought from a ticket booth. You buy the tickets and wait in line for the next boat to arrive. The wait can be long if there are many people because the boats have a limited capacity. Visitors are free to take their time and return to shore on any of the boats after they drop off new passengers at the tower. If you take a ferry to Üsküdar, walk south along the Bosporus for about ten minutes to reach the ticket booth for the tower. The ticket booth in Kabataş is located near the other ferries.
Once at the island, you can walk around the tower to get different perspectives and see the lighthouse.
When you enter the tower, there’s a staircase to the top. There are three legends of Kız Kulesi that are illustrated on the way up. The most popular (and my favorite) is that of the princess. It’s said that the tower was built for a princess by her father, a Byzantine emperor, to protect her after a prophet said she would die by snakebite. After her 18th birthday, to celebrate the prophecy not coming true, the emperor sent a basket of figs from which a snake appeared and fatally bit her.
The next legend is that of Battalgazi. Battalgazi, a Muslim warrior, falls in love with the daughter of a Byzantine emperor. To protect his daughter, the emperor imprisons her in the tower. Battalgazi storms the tower and kidnaps the daughter, riding away quickly on his horse. This legend coined a famous Turkish expression, “Atı alan Üsküdar’ı geçti” (He who takes the horse is already past Üsküdar).
The third legend is often misattributed to Kız Kulesi and is actually about Hero and Leander in the Dardanelles. Leander, from the town of Abydos (near modern day Çanakkale), falls in love with Hero, a priestess of Aphrodite. Hero lives in a tower in Sestos, across the Hellespont from Abydos. Every night, Hero builds a fire in the tower to light the way for Leandros who would swim across to be with her. One night, after a storm puts out the fire, Leandros becomes lost and dies. After hearing about his death, Hero is so struck by grief she commits suicide.
At the top of the tower, it’s possible to get great views of Topkapı Sarayı, Sultan Ahmet Camii (Blue Mosque), Hagia Sophia, Galata Kulesi (Galata Tower), and many more landmarks on the European side.
For a few different virtual tours of the tower and the views, click here.