Maiden’s Tower (Turkish Kız Kulesi) is an Ottoman tower on a small island in the Bosphorus. As a landmark of modern Istanbul, it has a spectacular panoramic view of the city. Due to its strategic location near the entrance of the Bosphorus, the site of the tower has a very long history.
There are many legends associated with Maiden’s Tower, which is also known as Leander’s Tower. The name Maiden’s Tower originates from a Turkish legend concerning a princess who was confined there. A prophecy, which predicted she would die from the bite of a serpent, comes true when she finds a serpent in a basket of grapes. Leander’s Tower, as it is known in, for example English, French and German traditions, derives from an ancient Greek myth associated with the Dardanelles.
It seems to have been the location of a customs station built by the Athenian general Alcibiades to control Bosporus following his naval victory at Cyzicus in 410 BC. Centuries later, during the Byzantine Era, it was the location of a small tower. According to the historian Niketas Choniates, it was constructed by the Byzantine Emperor Manuel I Komnenos (r. 1143-1180). There was a chain attached to the fortress on the island on one end and to a tower in Mangana, below the acropolis (where Topkapı Palace is now located) at the other end. This, of course, is a similar technique used at the Bosphorus around the same time, where a chain stretched across it. George Sphrantzes, who wrote a chronicle on the siege and conquest of Constantinople in 1453, mentions that the Venetian commander Gabriele Trevisano and fifty soldiers garrisoned the tower. The Ottomans used it as a watchtower until it was severely damaged by an earthquake in 1509. The wooden structure on the island burned down in 1721, after which a new structure was used as a lighthouse tower. The current structure dates to 1763. In recent years it was renovated and now houses a restaurant and café.
Tower in the Bosphorus from map of Constantinople by Buondelmonti (1422)
"View of Leander's Tower in Constantinople" by Ivan Aivazovsky (1848)
View of Constantinople by Alexei Petrovich Bogoliubov (1856)
Leander's Tower on the Bosporus by Sanford Robinson Gifford (1876)
From Harvard Art Museum
By Thomas Allom (1836)
By Eugène Flandin (1853)
By Eugène Flandin (1856)
By W.H. Bartlett (1838)
Photo by Pascal Seba (19th century)
Photo by Vassilaki Kargopoulo (19th century)
By Hermann Barth (1913)
Aerial photo by Kadir Kir
Aerial photo by István Pi Tóth
Bildlexikon zur Topographie Istanbuls: Byzantion, Konstantinupolis, Istanbul by Wolfgang Müller-Wiener
The Fall of the Byzantine Empire: A Chronicle by George Sphrantzes