Atop the Galata Tower
Standing at 66.9 meters in height, the Galata Tower dominates the skyline of Beyoğlu, and is one of Istanbul’s most instantly recognizable landmarks. Anxious for a birds-eye view of the city, we visited the tower on our first day, showing up just in time for sunset.
Galata Tower was built by the Genoese in 1348 during the twilight of the Byzantine Empire. In those days, the area presently called Beyoğlu was known as Galata, and was a colony of the Genoan Republic. Genoa had long-established trading ties with Byzantine, and in 1267, took advantage of its partner’s fragile state to claim a prime section of land along the Golden Horn. The Galata Tower formed part of the defense walls which protected the small community of foreigners.
During its long life, the Galata Tower has served many purposes: defense for the Genoese, a 16th-century astronomical observatory under the science-oriented Ottomans, a makeshift jail for Christian POWs, and a fire tower… until it was devastated by a fire. But perhaps its coolest use was as a jump-off point for one of man’s earliest attempts to fly.
Hezârfen Ahmed Çelebi was an experimental aviator of the early 17th century. Having strapped on artificial wings of his own design, he took a long look over his city, put his faith in Allah, and leaped from the heights of the Galata Tower. The flight was a success, and he landed unscathed on the shores of Üsküdar, six kilometers away over the Bosphorus Strait. Sultan Murad IV was initially thrilled, but quickly decided that this flying magician could be a threat to his reign. And so, for his death-defying efforts, Çelebi was awarded with exile to Algeria.
It was about a half-hour before sunset when Jürgen and I showed up at the ticket booth, and we couldn’t have been happier with our timing. There was a substantial crowd crammed in along the narrow walkspace encircling the tower, but the outlook over the city was worth the occasional elbow to the ribs. We had a true 360° panorama of Istanbul, with amazing views in every direction. Beyoğlu and our new home of Cihangir to the north, the Bosphorus Strait with its steady flow of tankers to the west, the Golden Horn winding its way inland to the east, and most impressively, the mosques and sights of Sultanahmet directly to the south.
As the sun slowly tucked itself in behind the Marmara Sea, the city changed color terrifically, from yellow to pink to purple to deep blue. The massive mosques which Istanbul has in such astounding abundance began to flip on their lights, one by one. And then the chanting started to ring out from the mosques. The sound of so many mournful songs, layered atop each other and echoing from every corner of the city, while we gazed upon the darkening beauty below… it gave me goosebumps. An unforgettable experience.
Like our pictures of the Galata Tower? Think about buying one framed!
I noticed this stone first, and said to Juergen, “Oh look, a snake”. He was just about to step on it. When he looked down, he momentarily thought it was real, and jumped backward with a squeal of fright. I laughed, of course, but if he were about to step on a REAL snake, why does he think my warning would be to nonchalantly say “Oh look, a snake”… ?
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