Istanbul is one of the most fascinating metropolises in the world, which not only extends over two continents, but also has a long and eventful history to offer. The Maiden’s Tower, which was able to survive many civilizations and many cultures, is located exactly between Europe and Asia on a small rocky island 180 m from the Asian side of today’s Üsküdar. Also known as Leander’s Tower and affectionately known by the locals as the Girl’s Tower, it served many purposes over the centuries, including a customs post for merchants, a defense tower, lighthouse, quarantine station, radio station and even as a senior citizens’ home for officers.

The building dates back to 408 BC, when it was built by the Athenian General Alcibiades as a waterway checkpoint and customs post for ships coming into Istanbul. Later, when the city was under Byzantine rule, the tower was called “Arcla”, meaning “little castle”. Emperor Alexius Comnenus rebuilt it in 1110 AD and enlarged it into a fortress. It is said, that one end of the long chain acting as a gate anchored here, which was stretched just below the waterline over the Bosporus to the Mangana Palace on the other side, in order to protect the city from attacks from the sea.

In 1509 the tower was destroyed after one of the largest earthquakes and was restored by Sultan Selim I and converted into a lighthouse. In the 17th century, it was converted into a wooden lighthouse, which was unfortunately completely destroyed by fire in 1719 and subsequently rebuilt in 1725, and during the cholera epidemic of 1830, it served as a quarantine. It was finally given an automatic lighting system in 1920 and still acts as a functioning lighthouse to this day.

There is not just one, but several legends that surround the tower. A few of the most popular are: 1. Hero, a priestess of Aphrodite and the young Leander are two characters from Greek mythology who gave the tower the name “Leander’s Tower”. In fact, it is said to be a legend that has taken place among the Dardanelles, with Leander on one side of Abydos, today’s Eceabat, and Hero from Sestus, on the opposite west bank of Helesbond Street, today’s city of Canakkale. Since he could only visit Hero in secret, he swam over to her every night while she lit a fire to show him the way. On a stormy night, however, the wind blew out the flames, so Leander got lost and drowned. When his lifeless body washed up on the coast, Hero plunged into the sea out of sheer grief and died.


Read the full article in Issue 16

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