A stone’s throw off the coast of Üsküdar, the Maiden’s Tower is one of Istanbul’s most instantly recognizable landmarks. It’s been a place of intrigue, legend and strategic importance since the city’s earliest days.
Historical accounts mention the Kiz Kulesi as a toll station used by the Greeks as far back as the 5th century BC. The Byzantines used it to chain off the Bosphorus, and thus extract a levy on ships entering and leaving the Black Sea. And the Ottomans used it as a watchtower.
All of which is very interesting, but not nearly as compelling as the legends which surround the tower. In the most famous, a sultan had received a prophecy that his daughter would be killed by a snake bite on her 18th birthday. So he tried to trick fate by placing her off shore, in the Maiden’s Tower. As dusk approached and the terrible prophecy remained unfulfilled, the sultan ferried across to celebrate, with a basket of fruit.
But alas! A venomous asp had smuggled itself into the basket. The princess was bit, and died in her tearful father’s arms.
Another legend tells the story of a girl named Hero who lived in the tower, and the young man Leandros who loved her. Every night, Leandros would swim to the tower, guided by a lamp lit in the tower by his fair maiden. One stormy night, though, Hero’s lamp was extinguished and Leandros, unable to find his way, drowned in the choppy water. When she saw his lifeless corpse wash up onto the rocks, Hero threw herself from her window and landed THUD next to her departed lover.
Today, the Maiden’s Tower serves little purpose other than touristic. For 15 Turkish Lira, you can ferry across for a visit. The bottom floor converts into a restaurant at night and, at the top, there’s a nice (and very expensive) cafe, as well as a platform which offers a unique view of the Bosphorus.