Galata Kulesi (Galata Tower) is one of Istanbul’s treasures. Standing nine stories and almost 67 meters high, this structure was the tallest in Constantinople when it was built. It sits in a square in the Beyoğlu area surrounded by stores and restaurants.
Nobody is exactly sure when the first tower was built, but it’s believed to be around 528 AD for use as a lighthouse by the Byzantines. It was rebuilt in 1348 by the Genoese, who colonized the area in 1273. They called it Christea Turris (Tower of Christ).
After the Ottomans conquered Constantinople in 1453, they began to use the tower as an observation tower for spotting fires. They repaired in 1510 and made some modifications, such as putting gun barrels on the 5th and 6th floors.
On the exterior, a panel commemorates the presentation of the keys of the Galata colony to Mehmet the Conqueror on Tuesday morning, May 29, 1453 – the day Constantinople was conquered by the Ottomans.
In the 1600s, Ottoman aviator Hezârfen Ahmet Çelebi used artificial wings to fly from the tower across the Bosporus to Üsküdar on the Asian side 6km away. An account by legendary Ottoman traveler Evliya Çelebi tells the story in great detail:
“First, he practiced by flying over the pulpit of Okmeydanı eight or nine times with eagle wings, using the force of the wind. Then, as Sultan Murad Khan was watching from the Sinan Pasha mansion at Sarayburnu, he flew from the very top of the Galata Tower and landed in the Doğancılar Square in Üsküdar, with the help of the south-west wind. Then Murad Khan granted him a sack of golden coins, and said: “This is a scary man. He is capable of doing anything he wishes. It is not right to keep such people,” and thus sent him to Algeria on exile. He died there.”
The conical roof of the Galata Tower was destroyed in a terrible storm in 1875. A copula was constructed in its place, but the conical roof was reconstructed in 1967 during restoration of the tower.
Nowadays, there’s an observation deck open to tourists along with a restaurant and nightclub on the upper floors. You can either make a reservation at the restaurant or wait in line and pay 20TL (as of September 2016) to head up to the observation deck.
From the observation deck, you can see the old city across the Golden Horn, including Hagia Sophia, Sultan Ahmet Camii (Blue Mosque), Topkapı Sarayı, and other important landmarks. Looking towards the north, you can see Taksim and the Bosporus.
If possible, I recommend going up to the observation deck about a half hour before sunset. You get to see the city in the sunlight and then you can witness the changing colors and eventually the silhouettes as the sun sets to the west.
It’s also quite an experience to be at the top of the tower during the ezan (call to prayer). You can hear every mosque within earshot while watching the action down below. The first video is from my very first visit to the tower on November 2, 2010, and the second is from September 17, 2013, my most recent visit.
An alternative to the Galata Tower is to visit Galata Konak Café just a short walk downhill. You can ride the elevator up to the top and get pretty much the same views towards the old city, all while enjoying a glass of çay or a delicious meal. I always liked to go there for breakfast.
For a virtual tour of Galata Tower, click here.