Maiden's Tower was first built by the ancient Athenian general Alcibiades in 408 BC to control the movements of the Persian ships in the Bosphorus strait. Back then the tower was located between the ancient cities of Byzantion and Chalcedon. The tower was later enlarged and rebuilt as a fortress by the Byzantine emperor Alexius Comnenus in 1110 AD, and was rebuilt and restored several times by the Ottoman Turks, most significantly in 1509 and 1763. The most recent facelift was made in 1998. Steel supports were added around the ancient tower as a precaution after the 17 August 1999 earthquake.
Used as a lighthouse for centuries, the interior of the tower has been transformed into a popular café and restaurant, with an excellent view of the former Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman capital. Private boats make trips to the tower several times a day.
Map of Constantinople (1422) by Florentine cartographer Cristoforo Buondelmonte, showing Pera at the north of the Golden Horn, Constantinople at south, and the Maiden's Tower at right, in the middle of the sea, near the coast of Üsküdar on the Asian side of the BosphorusThere are many legends about the construction of the tower and its location. According to the most popular Turkish legend, a sultan had a much beloved daughter. One day, an oracle prophecised that she would be stung to death by a venomous snake bite on her 18th birthday. The sultan, in an effort to thwart his daughter's early demise by placing her away from land so as to keep her away from any snakes, had the tower built in the middle of the Bosphorus to protect his daughter until after her 18th birthday. The daughter was placed in the tower, where she was frequently visited only by her father.
Maiden's Tower by nightOn the daughter's 18th birthday, the sultan had her brought a basket of exotic sumptouous fruit as a birthday gift, delighted that he was able to prevent the prophecy. Upon reaching into the basket, however, an asp that had been hiding amongst the fruit bites the young woman and she dies in her father's arms, just as the oracle had predicted. Hence the name Maiden's Tower.
The older name Leander's Tower comes from another story about a maiden: the ancient Greek myth of Hero and Leander. Hero was a priestess of Aphrodite who lived in a tower at Sestos, at the edge of the Hellespont (Dardanelles). Leander (Leandros), a young man from Abydos on the other side of the strait, fell in love with her and would swim every night across the Hellespont to be with her. Hero would light a lamp every night at the top of her tower to guide his way.
Succumbing to Leander's soft words, and to his argument that Aphrodite, as goddess of love, would scorn the worship of a virgin, Hero allowed him to make love to her. This routine lasted through the warm summer. But one stormy winter night, the waves tossed Leander in the sea and the breezes blew out Hero's light, and Leander lost his way, and was drowned. Hero threw herself from the tower in grief and died as well. The name Maiden's Tower might also have its origins in this ancient story.
Due to the vicinity and similarity between the Dardanelles and the Bosphorus, Leander's story was attributed to the tower by the ancient Greeks and later the Byzantines.
The tower today
Today, there is a restaurant in the first floor and a café at the top of the tower. It is a popular tourist destination.
The tower in popular culture
Maiden's Tower at sunsetThe tower was featured in the James Bond film The World Is Not Enough. The tower was a point on the CBS reality game show The Amazing Race 7.