Where is the maidens tower? What is the story of the maiden tower? Why was the maidens tower built?
The Maiden’s Tower, which is one of the symbols of Istanbul, is located on undersea rocks near Üsküdar coasts where Bosporus meets Marmara Sea.
The piece of land that had been a cape on the Asiatic shores of Istanbul in the ancient times of history in time drifted apart from the coast and the islet on which the Maiden’s Tower is located was formed.
In the 4th century BCE, the Athenian commander Alcibiades built a tower on that small island to keep the entrance and the exit of the Bosporus under control, and to collect tax from the ships. When needed, the area between Sarayburnu and the island could be closed with an iron chain.
That is why the name of the Maiden’s tower was Arcla (the little castle) during the Ancient times and the Byzantine Era.
After many years, in 341 BC, Greek commander Chares built a tomb on marble pillars for his deceased wife Damalis. For that reason, the castle was also called as Damalis Tower.
Between the years 1143 and 1178, a defensive tower for the protection of the city was built by Byzantine Emperor Manuel Comnenus.
According to Byzantine historians, Osman Gazi’s son Orhan Gazi who came to Üsküdar met the messengers sent by his father-in-law Kantakouzenos in the Maiden’s Tower.
After the conquest of Istanbul, the Maiden’s Tower was used for the same purposes during the Ottoman Period. During the most powerful periods of Ottoman Empire, the tower was used as a lighthouse rather than a defensive tower. Moreover, welcoming ceremonies for the navy returning to Istanbul and for the important guests coming to the country were organized by cannon fires from the tower.
After the tower was burnt down in a fire in 1716, it was rebuilt between 1725 and 1726 by the grand vizier Nevşehirli Damat İbrahim Paşa.
During the cholera outbreak in Istanbul which continued between the years 1830 and 1831, the Maiden’s Tower was served as an isolation hospital to prevent the city from the spread of the virus.
Today, the Maiden’s Tower serves as a restaurant.
The Maiden’s Tower occupies an important place in the culture of Istanbul not just because its architectural style, but also because of the tales and legends about it.
The Legends about the Maiden’s Tower
One of the oldest tales about the Maiden’s Tower goes back to the time of when Istanbul, or Byzantium as it was called at that time, was under the sovereignty of Athens. According to this tale, Kingdom of Athens sent 40 ships under the command of Admiral Chares to protest Istanbul from a possible attack of King Philip of Macedon. When his beloved wife Damalis passed away, Admiral Chares buried his wife in a tomb in the Maiden’s Tower by carving the rocks.
According to another legend, the young Leandros fell in love with a young lady in the Maiden’s Tower. Every night, the young lady built a fire on the rocks, where the Maiden’s Tower is located, to guide Leandros who swims from the opposite coast. At a stormy night, the fire lit by the young lady went out. Leandros could not find the rocks and lost his way. He drowned in the cold waters of the Bosporus. The young lady could not bear Leandros’s loss and commited suicide.
The most famous story of the Maiden’s Tower is as follows:
Byzantine Emperor had a daughter whom he loved very much and declared her birthday a festival in the country. Every year, the birthday of the princess was celebrated with spectacular events. The Emperor asked the scholars to train her daughter to become ready for the throne. Yet, the oldest scholar prophesized that the daughter of the Emperor was going to die before her 18th birthday by a snakebite. Upon this, the Emperor restored the tower on the small island in the middle of the sea, and settled her daughter down there. Years passed.
The daughter of the Emperor was soon going to turn 18. Yet as if proving the inevitability of destiny, a snake that went out from a basket of grape which had been sent to the tower bit and poisoned the princess. The Emperor became very sad for her daughter’s death and understood the inevitability of destiny. He thought that if his daughter were buried, she would be food for the snakes. For this reason, he mummified his daughter’s body and put her in a brass coffin. He, then, commanded the coffin to be placed on one of the high walls of the Hagia Sophia. He thought that he could at least protect his daughter’s dead body from the snakes.
Today, there are two holes on that coffin. It is narrated that the snake did not leave the princess in peace even after her death. (www.kizkulesi.com.tr)
Evliya Çelebi tells the following tale about the tower in his Seyahatname:
It is narrated that during the time of Sultan Bayezid-i Veli, a friend of God who lived in the Maiden’s Tower pulled the hems of his robe, sit on the water, and went to Sarayburnu every day, and gave lecture to the Sultan in the palace