Maiden’s Tower also known as Leander’s Tower is one of the symbols of Istanbul and an embodiment of water mysteries – love and myth. The small tower built on a rock at the mouth of the Bosphorus is one of the most romantic and mysterious places in Istanbul. It has kept the original look of the façade and is now used as a restaurant and an observation deck.
When you ask people who have visited Istanbul about their impressions they all start their story with Maiden’s Tower, the most romantic and mysterious Istanbul landmark with exciting legends connected with it throughout its long history.
Legends of the islet date back to ancient Byzantion. According to earliest legend, city-state Athens sent a flotilla of 40 ships under the command of General Chares to aid Byzantion in defense against Philip II of Macedon. Damalis, the wife of General Chares, accompanied her husband and died while they were stationed there. Chares buried his beloved wife in a sepulchre in the rocks.
According to another legend, Leander was a young man who met a girl, Hero, at the tower and fell in love with her. He would swim across the Dardanelles to be with her and she would light a fire on the rocks to show him the way. One stormy night the fire was put out by the wind so Leander could not find his way and drowned in the cold waters of the Bosphorus. Hero could not bear to live without her beloved Leander and took away her life.
Another legend from Byzantine times has a tragic ending like the ancient Greek stories. An oracle prophesied that the King’s daughter would die of a snakebite. In order to save his daughter from such destiny the King built a house on the rocks near the tower and locked her there. A young officer fell in love with her and one day decided to send her a bunch of flowers. A snake hid inside the bouquet, bit the misfortunate princess and she died.
An “old” friend
If we put aside legends and take evidence and substantiated information into account, we can say that Maiden’s Tower, built by human hands, dates from the 12th century. Records reveal that Byzantine Emperor Manuel Comnenos built two defense towers on the Bosphorus overlooking the Sea of Marmara. One of them is Maiden’s Tower and the other one is on the coast of Sarayburnu. An iron chain was stretched between the two towers to help intercept sea smugglers.
In the Ottoman period the tower was completely renovated in 1832-1833, during the reign of Sultan Mahmud II. It still has the same look which is documented in an inscription on the tower. The tower’s interior was covered wih cement in 1943. In 1959 it was handed over to the Army and for a while it was used as a radar station.
Maiden’s Tower was a lonely place in the middle of the sea for many years to come, until it was renovated and rented by a businessman. The team of scientists who worked on its renovation did extensive research in university archives, libraries, old documents, engravings, old photographs, writings and statements. All available information was evaluated individually and taken into account during the restoration process. In the process of restoration, other unexpected historical findings were excavated, also, after many years of isolation, people had a chance to get a close view of it.
Enjoy in Maiden’s Tower
After the restoration process was finished, the tower was repurposed as a restaurant. You can visit it every day from 12:00 – 19:00 hrs, except Mondays. From 20:00 – 01:00 hrs it works as a restaurant. You can get there by boat setting off from Salacak, Kabatas and Ortakoy.