One of the most iconic images of Istanbul surely has to be the Kız Kulesi Üsküdar, known in English as Maiden’s Tower, Tower of Leandros, Leander’s Tower or Bosphorus Tower. It is found on a small natural islet in the Bosphorus, just off the shore of Asian Istanbul.
The first tower here was built by an Athenian commander during the 5th century as a way of controlling ships passing the Bosphorus, and collecting taxes, a function that continued into Byzantine times, when a chain was stretched from it to the historic peninsula. In Ottoman times, it started to be used as a lighthouse.
View of Maiden's Tower from Salacak, Üsküdar
There are several myths and legends associated with the tower. The Leander’s Tower legend or The Lovers of Maiden’s Tower tells of two starcrossed lover; a priestess of Aphrodite named Hero, and a young man named Leander. They fell in love and each night, Leander would swim from the mainland to the island to see Hero, who would light a fire in the top of the tower to guide his way. One treacherous night, the wind blew out her light, so Leander lost his way and drowned. When his body washed to the tower, Hero decided she couldn’t be apart, and took her own life to be with him.
Another myth tells of a Byzantine Princess, whom an oracle had foretold would be bitten by a serpent and die before she turned 18. Terrified, the Emperor (her doting father) sent her to the tower to protect her until she turned 18. Celebrating this birthday, her father visited her bearing a basket of fruit, but unbeknownst to him, a serpent lay concealed within and bit her, causing the tragic prophecy to come true.
Not only do Maiden’s Tower photos make it into every Istanbul marketing campaign, but the mystical setting means that it has also featured in other modern tales – first as an important location in the 1999 James Bond film, The World Is Not Enough, and later in the video game, Assasin’s Creed: Revelations. In the latter, the Assasin, Niccolo Polo, builds an intricate structure beneath the tower to conceal a Masyaf key.
An upmarket restaurant on the islet, serves up traditional Turkish and international foods. The Kız Kulesi restaurant prices aren’t cheap, but you’re paying for the special location and view. There is also a museum that’s free to enter.
It’s possible to take a boat from either from Kabataş or Salacak (on the road between Uskudar and Harem). It takes 10 minutes from Kabataş and less than a minute from Üsküdar. Make sure to check the time schedule of the boat service in advance.